Duterte allows limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas

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FILE PHOTO

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 21) — President Rodrigo Duterte, who previously opposed physical classes until a coronavirus vaccine becomes available, has approved the proposal of the Department of Education (DepEd) to hold limited face-to-face classes in areas deemed to have low-risk COVID-19 transmission.

The President met with members of the COVID-19 task force on Monday night. Education Secretary Leonor Briones presented the advantages and disadvantages of allowing face-to-face classes in some areas, as she detailed the health protocols to be carried out.

"I am with you on this," Duterte told Briones and his Cabinet in the same meeting aired on Tuesday morning. "Let's try to make ourselves  productive even how constricted the times are. Okay ako [I am okay with this]." 

Face-to-face learning can only be carried out starting January 2021, but private schools which have started physical classes last June will be allowed to continue.

Briones said local executives and several international schools in the country are requesting for limited face-to-face classes, but students will not be required to attend physically for the entire school week as teachers will also carry out alternative modes of learning.

Citing studies, the education chief said children are not as affected by the health pandemic.

"Children are not as badly affected by the COVID phenomenon as compared to adults," she said.

However, she said minimum health standards will be strictly enforced in schools that will be allowed to hold face-to-face classes.

Briones added that schools in areas under moderate general community quarantine will be inspected by DepEd personnel and members of the National Task Force for Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19) if they can observe minimum health standards, such as having running water wherein students can religiously wash their hands. She also said that public schools will have an easier time adjusting as classrooms are open and without airconditioning, which is ideal to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The size of classes also have to be reduced to a maximum of 20 students to observe physical distancing in classrooms.

Despite all the precautions to be undertaken, Briones said parents who feel uncomfortable will not be forced to send their children to physically attend classes.

“‘Yung mga parents na ayaw ng face-to-face (classes), may choice naman sila sa online halimbawa," she said in a separate media briefing on Tuesday. "Kung hindi pwede ang online dahil hindi pwede ang connectivity nandiyan ang telebisyon, nandiyan ang radyo.”

[Translation: The parents who don't like face-to-face classes can opt for online learning. In the absence of online connectivity, they can also use the television or radio to learn.]

Classes are slated to start on August 24. DepEd reported that over 21 million students have enrolled for school year 2020-2021 compared to last year. But Briones revealed a "phenomenon" in which over 347,000 students of private schools opted to enroll in public schools this year due to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis to their parents' livelihood.

"The private schools have been affected by the downturn in the economy," the secretary said. "There are parents who lost their jobs and cannot already fund the studies of the students."

The Philippines has a total of 68,898 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 23,072 recoveries and 1,835 deaths as of Tuesday.