Filipino students return to face-to-face classes after 2 years of distance learning

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 22) — Millions of students trooped back to school on Monday — the first time most of them will be attending face-to-face classes in over two years due to the pandemic.

Public and private schools nationwide reopened, with many returning to in-person classes. Over 28.03 million students have enrolled this academic year, the Department of Education (DepEd) said.

More than 24,000 schools, or 46%, will implement five days of face-to-face classes, while 29,721 schools will continue to hold classes through blended learning from August to October, according to DepEd data.

By November 2, all public and private schools are required by DepEd to transition to full in-person classes.

Due to the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face classes were not allowed in school years 2020-2021 and 2021-2022. At the start of the global health crisis, schools shifted to distance learning.

For over two years since the pandemic struck in March 2020, the Philippines was among the few countries in the world where schools had not fully opened for in-person classes.

The much-awaited return to face-to-face classes was met with a protest. Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers staged a sunrise protest in Mendiola, Manila City to call for the safe reopening of classes.

The protesters also asked the government to improve the salary and benefits of teachers.

Health, vaccination protocols

DepEd is carrying out a "no discrimination policy," which allows learners and school personnel to attend face-to-face classes whether or not they are vaccinated against COVID-19.

Only 19% of students in the country have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 92% of teaching and non-teaching personnel have completed their shots, the department said three days before the start of classes.

DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa believes the low vaccination rate among learners is largely because COVID-19 immunization is not a pre-requisite to return to school.

"The truth of the matter is the vaccination program of the government is not mandatory," he said on Aug. 19.

This directive is a far cry from the vaccination requirements carried out during the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte. Then DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones only allowed vaccinated students and teachers to take part in physical classes.

DepEd is also rolling out a counseling program alongside mobile vaccination centers this school year to encourage parents and students to get their COVID-19 shots.

Students who exhibit flu-like symptoms will be excused from in-person classes. Schools will not be held liable if a student or personnel tests positive for COVID-19.

Students are discouraged from eating together to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The classes opened amid rising COVID-19 cases due to the spread of Omicron subvariants. It was only last week when the Department of Health noted a plateauing of new infections except in Mindanao.

Security measures

The Philippine National Police has deployed 23,000 personnel nationwide to ensure the safety of all learners and school staff.

National Capital Region Police Office Spokesperson PLt. Col. Dexter Versola said 9,700 police personnel were deployed in Metro Manila and so far no of untoward incidents have been reported on the first day of school.

He said police assistance desks were set up outside schools and transportation hubs.

Students will also have more options when it comes to commuting with the return of over 11,000 buses, jeepneys and UV Express vehicles plying non-EDSA routes on Monday.

With the start of classes, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority expects EDSA and other nearby roads to be congested. It projects the volume of vehicles on EDSA will increase to around 436,000, compared to the pre-pandemic volume of approximately 405,000 vehicles.

Following the expected traffic jams, MMDA reimposed the number coding scheme in the morning to manage the situation on the roads.