DepEd chief: Summer break must balance academic ease, impact of long period without classes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 18) — When it comes to discussions on how long students' summer vacation should be, Education Secretary Leonor Briones says calls for academic ease and the impact of a prolonged absence of classes must be balanced.

When asked about the department's reported plans to shorten the break and extend the school year, Briones explained her position on the matter.

"We are very careful in calibrating itong bakasyon [this vacation]. Kasi nakabakasyon na sila ng anim na buwan, magdagdag na naman tayo ng bakasyon," said Briones, who proceeded to ask whether this would help the youth's calls for academic ease.

[Translation: They (children) have already been on vacation for six months. Do we need to add more?]

Academic ease involves the implementation of measures aimed at helping teachers and students adjust better to new modes of learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the suggestions forwarded by advocacy groups are lessening school requirements and allowing asynchronous classes for those unable to attend them on time, given problems like internet connectivity.

"Kung yan ay makakatulong dahil hingi nila ang academic ease — tumahimik na yung academic freeze, na hindi na nila pinu-pursue yung pag-close ng classes — ay gagawin namin. Pero siguro hindi sobrang haba," said the Education chief, citing the impact of a lengthy vacation on parents, teachers, and learners.

[Translation: If that (extending vacation) will help achieve academic ease — calls for academic freeze have quieted down — then we'll do it. But not too long.]

For instance, Briones said she had been receiving feedback on kids still preferring actual teachers to educate them, and the atmosphere of a school. Teachers likewise have had to adjust and provide lessons under distance learning, with parents also taking on the role of educating their children while face-to-face classes remain prohibited, she added.

Groups reject extended school year

Teachers and students have expressed their opposition to the Department of Education's idea of extending the school year and cutting the summer break to just two weeks, saying learners and educators are already burned out.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers on Thursday said the department should instead focus on easing the workload.

"The difficulties of many students in keeping up with the lessons while both learners and teachers are burned out is a clear proof that the current curriculum and the over-all learning design being implemented are not sufficiently attuned to their real situation under the health and economic crisis," ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said in a statement.

The group was reacting to DepEd Usec. Diosdado San Antonio's proposal to extend the academic year, and short the two-month summer break to just two weeks, during an interview with GMA's '24 Oras'.

ACT cited consultations with teachers who relayed their struggle of keeping up with distance learning requirements, stressing that on top of teaching, they have to print and collate modules as well, and deliver them to the students' homes. They do not even have vacation or sick leave benefits, and the 8-hour work shift is "heavily disregarded", it added.

"They are being treated as tireless workhorses by the DepEd while they themselves also experience the stresses brought about by the pandemic and the economic crisis to their families," the group said.

The National Union of Students in the Philippines also rejected the proposal. The group said apart from economic problems that come with using gadgets, the distance learning setup has also severely affected learners' mental health.

"Pagod na pagod at sadlak na sa hirap ang mga estudyante dulot ng palpak na distance learning!" NUSP President Jandeil Roperos said.

[Translation: The students are exhausted and suffering due to the failed distance learning system.]

Netizens also shared their frustrations with DepEd, flooding social media with angry statements. It was among the top 2 trending topics on Twitter in the country on Thursday.