Guidelines on limited face-to-face classes

THE DEPARTMENT of Education (DepEd) has been urged by private schools to create a technical working group (TWG) for the formulation of guidelines on the implementation of limited face-to-face classes nationwide.

On August 05, 2021, the education department issued DepEd Order No. 029, s. 2021, which sets the opening of the school year 2021-2022 on September 13, 2021. The school year will end on June 24, 2022, for a total of 209 school days. The conduct of face-to-face classes, whether in partial or full-scale, will still not be allowed unless permitted by the President. Face-to-face classes in public and private schools in the entire country have been suspended since March 2020 when the President declared a state of public health emergency in the Philippines due to the 2019 Coronavirus Disease pandemic. In response to the suspension of face-to-face classes, the DepEd has adopted a blended learning approach, consisting of radio, television, online and modular learning methods, whereby students accessed lessons through online classes or study modules. According to UNICEF Philippines, prolonged school closures have a significant impact not just on children’s skills attainment and earning prospects, but also on their physical and mental health. While online education can guarantee some continuity of learning for some children, these services are no substitute for in-person attendance.

The UNICEF Philippines has revealed school closures have also led to reduced physical activity, poor eating habits, and disrupted sleep patterns. For some children, more time at home has increased the risk of domestic violence, just as more screen time has exacerbated the risks of online harm. And with schools closed, a critical avenue for identifying and reporting abuse and mental-health issues has been closed off. According to Asian Development Bank Brief, there is substantial empirical evidence of a “slide” effect during breaks from education, in which children not only do not acquire additional knowledge, but they also lose knowledge that they have already acquired. This effect is substantial. During a period of school closure, it has been estimated that students lose knowledge at about the same rate as they acquire it during the year. This means that, for each academic year in which there is no education, students lose academic years of learning, compared to when schools are open. The present value costs of face-to-face closure are estimated to be very high at P1.9 trillion for the 2020-2021 school year (equivalent to over 10% of GDP).

A cost-benefit analysis of face-to-face closure of schools in the Philippines shows that school classroom closure has additional labor market consequences, both in terms of losses in employment of private school teachers and losses in income of parents who need to provide childcare. Private school enrollment has fallen by 50.4% for the school year 2020-2021, according to DepEd enrollment figures as of September 2020. According to the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), private schools employ 410,000 teachers and personnel. Assuming 50% of those employees lose employment, approximately 200,000 jobs will be lost with an estimated wage loss of P16 billion in the school year 2020-2021.

Senator Nancy Binay filed Senate Resolution No. 890 urging the DepEd to create a TWG for the formulation of guidelines on the implementation of limited face-to-face classes nationwide and in a senate hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture on August 25, 2021, DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said that the DepEd and the Department of Health has come up with a joint circular for the pilot face-to-face classes which has been approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases and is expected to be issued by the DepEd and the Department of Health (DoH) next week. In the same committee hearing, Atty. Joseph Noel Estrada, Managing Director of COCOPEA, stated that private schools remain to be in online and remote learning because there is no policy yet that allows them to give the option of face-to-face classes to parents, and the guidelines for the private schools would also be lumped in the policy guidelines that would be presented by the DepEd. Atty. Estrada reiterated COCOPEA’s request to have separate parameters or guidelines for pilot testing in the private education sector considering the difference in parameters and environment, particularly on consideration of space.

It is imperative for the DepEd to consider the differences between public and private schools in adopting policy measures on the gradual reopening of schools in the country. It is necessary for the DepEd to discuss the concerns of private schools and come up with guidelines through a technical working group composed of key stakeholders from the public and private sectors to ensure a responsive and collaborative approach for the resumption of face-to-face learning in private schools.

The DepEd and DoH announced they will release joint guidelines for limited face-to-face classes for basic education learners and the list of pilot schools may be released in the next few days. The DepEd will choose 100 public and 20 private schools that will test out face-to-face classes under strict health and safety protocols. Malaluan said many of the schools are located in remote areas.

Students are only allowed to stay within school grounds for three hours with a maximum of 12 Kindergarten students per classroom and a maximum of 16 students from Grades 1, 2 and 3. Any air-conditioning units will be turned off and ventilation in the classroom will be through open doors and windows.

The DepEd assured parents that participation in limited face-to-face classes will be on a voluntary basis. Students who need more assistance in learning will be prioritized including those who are behind in learning competencies for their grade level and those who lack instructional support in their households.

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