DepEd: In-person classes for SPED, ALS in 'progressive expansion phase'
MANILA - The country's Special Education (SPED) and Alternative Learning Schools (ALS) have been greatly affected by the COVID-10 pandemic, as the number of enrollees significantly dropped, a senator said Friday.
During a Senate hearing of the Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture on Friday, committee chairman Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian described SPED and ALS as among the "casualties" of school closures due to COVID-19.
"ALS is one of the casualties of this prolonged school closure. Pre-pandemic time, we had 759,000 enrollees. Now, we only have 434,000 enrollees," he said.
"In the same manner, sa SPED natin, sa special education, another heavy casualty because of the pandemic. During the pre-pandemic, we have 360,000 enrollees, but now we only have 94,000 enrollees."
Education Assistant Secretary Malcolm Garma explained that SPED programs are school-based and one class consists of students from different grade levels.
This is why it was limited by the pilot test, wherein only kinder to Grade 3 and senior high school students were allowed to participate in in-person classes.
Garma added that DepEd would consider the resumption of face-to-face classes for SPED and ALS as the agency prepares for the expansion phase of in-person classes, which is expected to begin early next year.
"But with the inclusion of the other grade levels, all the school-based SPED program will automatically be part of the progressive expansion, as long as they will make the necessary requirement and parameters," he said.
For ALS, classes are held in community learning centers.
Garma said teachers are also being restricted due to community quarantine in their areas, but hopes that they may be able to go around more often now with the lowering of alert level status in different areas in the country.
"Definitely, this will be considered also if the ALS learners will now be expected to report to their respective CLCs (Community Learning Centers) with their mobile teachers," he said.
"Rest assured, we will definitely consider these two programs (SPED and ALS) in the preparation for the progressive expansion phase of the limited face to face (classes)."
Meanwhile, while already allowed to reopen for physical classes, private schools are also appealing for help.
Gatchalian noted that the general enrollment for SY 2021-2022 is higher compared with pre-pandemic figures, but enrollment in private schools is "still down by close to a million from pre-pandemic level."
COCOPEA Managing Director Atty. Joseph Noel Estrada suggested exploring the "right balance of self-regulation and self-assessment" for the reopening of private schools, and providing financial assistance to these schools.
"From a fundamental principled perspective, hindi rin po talaga maganda iyong massive migration of students from the private schools to the public schools," he said.
"It weakens the choice of the parents. They're constrained to transfer them. Iyan po sana talaga ang binibigay ng complementarity of public and the private schools sectors... At the same time, it affects the sustainability of the private education sector."
A total of 287 schools —265 public schools and 22 private schools — are participating in the pilot implementation of in-person classes, and 8 international schools in NCR have also been allowed to conduct pilot face to face classes.
The pilot is the first of the government's three-phased plan to reopen basic education schools after nearly two years of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students who are not participating in the pilot run will continue to study at home through distance learning.
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Some 27.2 million students are enrolled this school year in both public and private schools from Kindergarten until high school.