Senators press DepEd on pilot testing of face-to-face classes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 25) — Some senators on Wednesday questioned Department of Education officials on their supposed lack of a sense of urgency in gradually getting students back to the classrooms.

In a Senate hearing, Senator Pia Cayetano pointed out that the Philippines is now one of only a few countries that have yet to return to the classroom setup.

“That rollout is so slow and pathetic if you ask me. Sorry, pero huling-huli na talaga tayo [Sorry, but we are really left behind],” Cayetano said during the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture hearing on the upcoming opening of classes.

DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force has already approved the joint DepEd-Department of Health guidelines for the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19.

However, he added that President Rodrigo Duterte still has the final say if it will be allowed.

If approved, the planned pilot testing in 129 schools will be conducted for a period of two months beginning September.

According to DepEd, the program will be voluntary, requiring a written consent from the parents or guardians of participating students.

Classes will have a maximum of 12 students for kindergarten, 16 for grade levels 1-3, and 20 for senior high school.

Senator Nancy Binay asked the officials why the plans haven’t been presented to the President yet.

“Why wait for the next IATF, Cabinet meeting? The secretary can just probably call or set an appointment with the President, di ba? And do a one-on-one presentation with him, kasi for me there’s a sense of urgency,” Binay said.

Citing a Pulse Asia Survey, committee chairman Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said 62% of public school students want to physically go back to school.

In the distance learning setup, most public school students mainly rely on printed modules due to limited access to gadgets and internet connection.

A group of private schools, meanwhile, wants the government to decide on them separately, as they may be more capable in carrying out limited face-to-face classes in the new normal.

“Ang comment naman ng mga ibang private schools, kung hihintayin natin na mapunta sa very low quarantine classification before we pilot, then we may never see a limited face-to-face for NCR, for example,” Coordinating Council of Private Education Association legal counsel Noel Estrada told the committee.

[Translation: Other private schools said that if we wait for the imposition of a very low quarantine classification before we pilot, then we may never see limited face-to-face classes for NCR, for example.]

DepEd data show around 8.5 million basic education students have enrolled in public and private schools for the coming school year.