August school opening should be subject to evaluation amid COVID-19 crisis – solon

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 25)— The scheduled reopening of classes on August 24 should still be subject to thorough review by officials as COVID-19 pandemic remains a threat, a lawmaker said Monday.

Senator Win Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate basic education committee, told CNN Philippines that the government may have to "adjust accordingly" if the COVID-19 situation in the country does not improve by then.

"August 24 is still three months away from now. Meron pa tayong time to evaluate the situation (We still have time to evaluate the situation)," Gatchalian said in an interview with The Source.

"Ang pinakamahalaga dito (The important thing here) is government will not allow our students, teachers, and parents to be at risk. If we find out that it is very risky for students, parents, and teachers to go to school, then we can still move the class opening... We will adjust accordingly if the situation will not improve," he added.

The school calendar for the next school year will begin on August 24 and end on April 30, 2021, the Education Department earlier announced.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones, however, said the resumption of classes does not require full physical attendance of students, stressing that online learning is still a viable option.

RELATED: Online classes still an option for August 24 opening, says DepEd

But some netizens and lawmakers expressed concern over the proposed reopening.

Ang Probinsyano Party-list Rep. Ronnie Ong urged the agency to postpone the resumption of classes, saying the country's education system is not fully ready for a virtual classroom set-up.

"The (DepEd) should postpone the resumption of classes this year instead of resorting to virtual classrooms which would only prejudice students who are not equipped with e-learning gadgets and could not afford to have any internet connection," Ong said in a statement over the weekend.

He added the option to hold virtual classes "also unnecessarily gives parents additional financial and emotional burden just to ensure that their children will not miss out on this school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic."

Some solons have also pushed for the postponement of class openings until and unless a vaccine against COVID-19 is developed.

Gatchalian, however, said the proposed move is "anti-poor"— as students without internet connectivity would be the ones affected by a delay in the learning system.

"If you suspend classes, 'yung mga mayayaman, mag-aaral 'yan, makakapagaral 'yan. Because they are all online. Pero 'yung public school natin, they will be stuck at home... By postponing classes and not doing anything, is making our poor students left behind," the senator said.

[Translation: If you suspend classes, the rich ones can find a way to study. Because they are all online. But our public schools, they will be stuck at home. By postponing classes and not doing anything, is making our poor students left behind.]

Gatchalian likewise urged fellow officials to bank on "innovation" in implementing the "new normal" in the education sector.

"What we want is for the government to innovate. The COVID will not stop innovation. In fact, that's what DepEd is doing, they're innovating, they're adjusting to the situation, and they can teach. We have TV, radio. We can send homework through other means, we can continue to teach," he noted.

Graduation rites in the Philippines have been postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak, with some schools resorting to virtual ceremonies for students. Majority of DepEd's scheduled programs have also been put on hold due to the quarantine protocols.