MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Education (DepEd) is preparing to expand the conduct of limited in-person classes by January 2022 after wrapping up a pilot study last Friday, an official said Monday.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, DepEd Planning Service Director Roger Masapol said the agency was readying a report that would be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte, which contained findings of the pilot phase of in-person classes from Nov. 15 to Dec. 17.
The report will also contain recommendations of allowing more schools and grade levels to hold physical classes, he said.
Under the pilot phase, which had 287 participating schools, only students from Kindergarten to Grade 3 and senior high school were allowed to attend in-person classes.
"Halimbawa, by first week ng January, mayroong hundreds of schools ang nag-qualify na. They can start already. And then by the second week, mayroon another 100, they can start," Masapol said.
(For example, by the first week of January, if hundreds of schools will qualify for face-to-face classes, they can start already. And then by the second week, there's another 100, they can start.)
"It's progressive expansion until maisa-isa natin iyong ready na makapag-start na ng in-person classes."
(It's progressive expansion until one-by-one, the schools ready for in-person classes can start holding those classes.)
The "progressive expansion" also covered private schools, institutions offering special education, and the Alternative Learning System.
Schools need to accomplish the DepEd's safety assessment tool, and must get consent from the local government unit and students' parents before restarting classroom sessions.
Masapol added that the DepEd was constantly coordinating with the Department of Health (DOH) after the Philippines reported its first cases of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.
He appealed to school personnel, parents and learners to continue abiding by health protocols.
"We will get cue from DOH on titigil ba tayo... or suspend muna ng two weeks, suspend. But for now, kumbaga very positive pa ang DepEd tsaka DOH na tuloy-tuloy ito," he said.
(We will get cue from DOH on whether we will stop holding in-person classes... or if they tell us to suspend for two weeks, we'll suspend. But for now, the DepEd and DOH are very positive that this will continue.)
Plastic barriers discouraged
Masapol reiterated that face shields and plastic barriers are not required during the limited in-person classes.
"Atin nang dini-discourage na huwag nang gamitin iyong face shield kasi nai-impede nga iyong vision ng mga bata. At iyong plastic barriers, hindi lang sa nakaka-impede siya ng air flow, baka maging repository pa siya ng virus," he said.
(We're discouraging the use of face shields because these impede children's vision. The same with plastic barriers that not only impede the air flow but can also be a repository of the virus.)
The DepEd is also considering adjusting the number of hours for in-person classes after students and teachers said the maximum four hours was insufficient.
Masapol added that the agency was looking at which students are capable of remote learning and which ones "thrive" in in-person classes.
"Mayroon talagang estudyante na hindi talaga sila for distance learning. May mga certain percentage naman ng learners natin, iyong mga tinatawag nating independent learners, na puwede sila sa kahit anong modality," he said.
(There are really students who aren't suited for distance learning. There's also a certain percentage among our learners, those we can call independent learners, who are able to adapt to any modality of learning.)
According to the DepEd, 265 public schools and 22 private schools joined the pilot phase. Eight international schools in the capital regions have also been allowed to resume in-person classes.
In-person classes were banned beginning March 2020 due to COVID-19, forcing Philippine schools to shift to a distance learning program that proved to be challenging for many educators and families in a country where access to the internet and gadgets is uneven.