Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said students should enroll because they have to be assessed on whether they can be promoted to the next educational level.
Edd Gumban, file
Palace to parents: Enroll your children
Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - May 28, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Parents should enroll their children in schools as formal learning will start on Aug. 24 despite quarantine restrictions being implemented to contain the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said students should enroll because they have to be assessed on whether they can be promoted to the next educational level.

“What is certain is by Aug. 24, formal learning will resume. What is uncertain is whether or not face-to-face classes would resume; that would really depend on whether we have achieved the new normal. But (the Department of Education) is now preparing for blended learning,” Roque said.

“Enrollment will proceed because whether it be face-to-face or blended… there has to be a basis for assessing whether or not after one year, your children will progress to the next level,” he told ANC in an interview.

While the Department of Education (DepEd) has set the opening of classes on Aug. 24, confusion arose when President Duterte announced last Monday that classes won’t open until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.

The following day, Roque clarified that Duterte was just referring to face-to-face classes that cannot be held as long as the country remains under community quarantine. Roque said schools could resume classes, but should adopt blended learning – a combination of face-to-face classes, online sessions and the use of television and radio.

In a separate interview, Roque said schools may push through with their plan to start enrollment on Monday.

“It’s easy to cancel depending on the situation... Even if it’s blended learning, we need to have a basis for promoting students to the next grade,” he told radio dzRH.

The DepEd, according to the Palace spokesman, should also prepare for the influx of students to provinces with lower coronavirus infection risks compared with that of Metro Manila.

“We can’t blame parents (if they enroll their children in the provinces) because of lower risks, and we encourage our countrymen to return to the provinces,” he said.

Roque emphasized that the restrictions on face-to-face classes are intended to protect students from the risks posed by the virus, which has so far infected over 15,000 people in the country.

“The President is correct. We will never... expose our children to any form of danger. So it’s been very clear, although we are preparing for Aug. 24 openings – that is actually based on the assumption that it will be safe to do so for the children,” he said.

“Because for as long as there is community quarantine, schools will remain shut. So in other words, the assumption is that by Aug. 24, we would be under a new normal... That’s why we have to prepare,” he added.

The use of blended learning is attuned to the reality that not all students have access to the internet, according to Roque.

“So in addition to online learning, we will be tapping community radio stations, community TV stations, PTV-4 and even private companies such as ABS-CBN for instructional purposes,” he said.

Broadcasting giant ABS-CBN, however, has been off the air since May 5 because of a cease and desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission. Its franchise expired on May 4 without the House of Representatives acting on bills for its renewal.

“So (blended learning) is a bold move on the part of the DepEd. We have not done it on this scale, but we have to adapt to the times in the same way that media has adapted to the times that we’re now both broadcasting from our homes,” Roque said.

Private institutions with small numbers of students per section can seek accreditation from the DepEd to hold face-to-face learning, according to the presidential spokesman.

“In fact, they may have small meetings just for assessment purposes or for enforcement purposes... We can be creative about it, and I think there are alternative learning specialists,” he said.

“Now, if you’re asking about special schools, I think it’s a matter of getting accreditation from DepEd. If it’s special learning, which really has about only 15 students, I see no reason or obstacle for the DepEd not to allow it,” he added.

DOH backs Duterte

The Department of Health (DOH) has expressed support for Duterte’s pronouncement that face-to-face classes should only be allowed when a vaccine for COVID-19 is available.

“We would like to reiterate the position of the DOH that face-to-face classes should remain suspended while we still don’t have a vaccine,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said at a press briefing yesterday afternoon.

Vergeire made the statement a day after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III issued varying positions on the school opening.

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Duque said it is safe to reopen classes on Aug. 24 provided that minimum health standards are followed.

He later clarified that he is supporting the President in his position to suspend face-to-face classes until a vaccine against COVID-19 is available to the public.

In explaining the DOH position, Vergeire noted the difficulty in ensuring physical distancing in all parts of the campus, which is part of the minimum health standard requirement.

“The health and safety of every student would be ensured if they remain at home, while the teachers are finding ways to implement flexible alternative learning methods,” she said.

The DepEd has yet to answer questions regarding the requirement for a vaccine before physical classes can resume.

During the DOH press conference, however, Education Undersecretary for curriculum and instruction Diosdado San Antonio said they have prepared various learning modalities to take into account the risks of the pandemic.

San Antonio said face-to-face classes with physical distancing would be conducted if the DOH and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases allow teachers and students to go to schools.

In such cases, San Antonio said classes would be divided and students would only be required to go to schools on some days and study at home for the rest of the week.

The DepEd official added that they have prepared other learning modalities, such as distance learning that uses the internet, television or radio to deliver educational content to children.

For those without access to gadgets, he said they are also preparing printed materials that would be delivered to the homes of the students.

Guidelines

With conflicting statements regarding school opening, various groups are calling on government officials to come up with clear guidelines on when classes can really resume in the country.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said government discord has left stakeholders in limbo on what would happen in the following weeks.

ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio said the confusion is adding to the anxiety of teachers, who are expected to return to work starting June 1 as the enrollment period begins.

“Officials’ conflicting statements make it clear that the country is not actually ready to open schools. As such, we fear that the unpreparedness and premature decisions may put to risk the lives of teachers, staff and parents,” Basilio said.

The DepEd has yet to release the guidelines on the monthlong enrollment period, which it had earlier announced as part of the schedule for school year 2020-2021.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) said the DepEd should immediately clarify the status of the school opening.

TDC chair Benjo Basas said the matter should immediately be clarified to allow stakeholders to plan their next steps.

The group earlier welcomed the President’s statements, saying it would allow the DepEd to focus on its plans to deliver alternative modes of learning even without a formal declaration of class opening.

Basas, however, said the discovery of a vaccine should not be a prerequisite for schooling since there are several modes to deliver education service. Robertzon Ramirez, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla

HARRY ROQUE
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