MANILA— More than a month since the start of pilot face-to-face classes, an official of the Department of Education (DepEd) on Friday said it was the "last day of weekly assessment" for pilot face-to-face classes, as their Christmas break is set to begin next week.
During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, Education Assistant Secretary Malcolm Garma said they would now consolidate findings and recommendations from the pilot in-person classes, submit this to President Rodrigo Duterte, and wait for his decision on the expansion phase, which is slated to begin early next year.
"Even if we have terminated or we have already ceased from the pilot component, those that already started with the pilot face to face (classes) will continue doing the limited face to face classes even by next year," Garma said.
"The only question that remains at this point is if we will be allowed by the Office of the President to expand this to more schools by next year," he added.
In fact, we have already issued the instruction to all our regions to ready, start assessing all the schools in the public school system so that we can determine how many of the schools are already prepared and ready for the possible additional schools for the expansion phase by next year."
Garma said they will finish and submit their report and recommendations to the president "before the year ends" and "hopefully at the start of the school by next year, we could already have the decision" on the expansion.
Students will be back to school from their Christmas break on Jan. 3.
He explained that the expansion phase will run from January to the end of school year 2021 to 2022.
"We are not treating anymore the expansion phase as pilot. So we would like to embed the expansion program as part of the regular operations of our schools," Garma said.
"But even if it's already part of the regular operation of our schools, SDOs (Schools Division Offices), and the regions, still they have to really determine the level of readiness of their schools by using our SSAT (School Safety Assessment Tool), as the self-assessment tool in terms of readiness."
Based on DepEd's timeline, the expansion phase will begin in January 2022, and the "transitioning to new normal" starts during SY 2022-2023.
Committee chairman Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian commended DepEd for the "successful" conduct of pilot face to face classes, as there was community participation and "conscious effort" of agencies and stakeholders to resume in-person classes.
State of pilot in-person schools
A total of 287 schools —265 public schools and 22 private schools — are participating in the pilot implementation of in-person classes, and eight international schools in NCR have also been allowed to conduct pilot face to face classes.
According to Garma, there are no confirmed COVID cases during the past four weeks of holding pilot in-person classes. During the same period, two schools implemented lockdowns: one on the first week due to teachers testing positive in the antigen test, and another due to a disinfection activity.
Based on reports from schools, some challenges encountered by teachers include limited time to attend to concerns of students, "multiple attention" to both learners in school and at home, and "behavioral issues" of learners amid the absence of physical classes for almost two years.
Meanwhile, some learners have difficulty in basic literacy. They hardly finish activities given by their teacher due to limited class hours and have the tendency to remove face masks during classes, especially among kinder and Grade 1 students.
Gatchalian told DepEd to be "more aggressive" in reopening physical classes.
"Definitely, one of the biggest challenges is the issue of inequality, those in terms of access to gadgets and in terms of literacy... The longer we put off school, the longer the inequality will grow," he said.
In response, Garma admitted that there is a "challenge in terms of scaling up the number of schools" (holding in-person classes), and assured they will "make necessary adjustments" based on observations from pilot face to face classes, and to "capacitate regions" to better support them.