Gatchalian: PH cannot handle another year of no face-to-face classes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 7) — Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing for the resumption of face-to-face classes, saying the country cannot afford to have another year without it.

"Dapat talaga magbukas na ho tayo ng face-to-face classes. Umpisahan natin iyan sa pilot testing, mag-pilot test ho tayo sa ibang mga lugar na zero COVID or low risk," Gatchalian said at the Laging Handa briefing on Tuesday.

[Translation: We have to open face-to-face classes. Let us start pilot testing, let's pilot test in areas with zero COVID or are low risk.]

Gatchalian heads the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.

He said the easing of some areas into the more relaxed general community quarantine means the COVID situation in those places are getting better, and face-to-face learning could start.

The senator said he feared "learning loss" among students because of the pandemic.

"Ang aking kinakatakutan na isang taon pa na wala tayong pasok, ang bata talaga ay uurong at uurong iyan. Nasabi na ito ng mga dalubhasa, ng maraming eksperto...Hindi na natin kaya ng isa pang taon na walang face-to-face. Maraming magulang hirap, maraming batang hirap at ang bata po hindi natututo," he said.

[Translation: I'm afraid that with another year of no classes, the children’s education will regress. This has been stated by many experts...We cannot afford to have another year of no face-to-face classes. Many parents and children are having a hard time, and the kids are not learning.]

On Monday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Presidential Rodrigo Duterte "may allow" face-to-face learning in areas with low cases of COVID-19.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said 120 schools will be included in the pilot face-to-face classes once the President approves it.

He added they will pick 100 among 638 public schools the Department of Education (DepEd) is monitoring. The remaining 20 will be from evaluated private schools that volunteered.

Malaluan also said this will prioritize kindergarten to grade three students in minimal risk areas, as recommended by health experts.

There is still no COVID-19 vaccine approved for this age group, but the undersecretary said they are "actually the age group that the medical experts have found based on the data to be the most resilient from COVID transmission."

He also assured the public that DepEd and the Department of Health have developed "comprehensive guidelines" to ensure safe return to classrooms.

"It is a matter of the assessment of both the public health and learning process...and we are being careful with this, and we also have to listen to the prescription of the Department of Health and our medical experts and ultimately the President," Malaluan said.

Currently in the Philippines, only Pfizer and Moderna were granted emergency use for 12-17 year olds.