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748 private schools suspend operations

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
748 private schools suspend operations
Parents check the sections of their children on the lists posted at the Talon Elementary School in Las Piñas City yesterday.
Russell Palma

No academic freeze – DepEd

MANILA, Philippines — Hundreds of private elementary and high schools across the country will suspend operations this school year due to low enrollment of students, according to the Department of Education (DepEd).

Data released this week by DepEd showed that 748 out of 14,435 private schools nationwide have already given notice that they will not operate for school year 2020-2021.

Most of those that will suspend operations are in Central Luzon with 141, followed by Calabarzon with 121, Metro Manila with 96 and Western Visayas with 90.

The suspensions affect 3,233 teachers and 40,345 learners. DepEd reported that 329 are elementary schools, 18 are purely junior high school and 30 purely senior high school.

DepEd Undersecretary Jesus Mateo said low enrollment was the primary reason for not operating. He previously said that the cost of continuing operations under the blended learning setup was also a factor in the decision of some schools not to open this year.

“(They are saying) that it would be temporary closure. But if the situation improves next year, they will reopen,” he added.

Face-to-face classes have been suspended for the rest of the year due to the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This prompted schools to adopt distance learning approaches, such as shifting to online or modular-based learning.

Latest data showed that only 2.02 million students have so far enrolled in private schools, representing only 47.14 percent of the more than four million student population in private schools last year.

More than 24.3 million elementary and high school students had expressed their intention to enroll in public and private schools this school year, representing 87.82 percent of the student population last year.

Over 22.22 million signed up in public schools, while almost 400,000 students from private schools have transferred to public schools for the upcoming school year set to start Oct. 5.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said they are hopeful that the schools would reconsider their position, noting the improving economy that may push enrollment in the private sector.

Calls for ‘academic freeze’

The DepEd has rejected calls for the postponement of the opening of classes until next year.

Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the so-called “academic freeze” is not something supported by the direction they are taking in terms of learning continuity.

“We believe that this call for academic freeze is a populist position that is not popular because we already have the support of as many as 24 million learners and their parents who have enrolled and are ready to participate in distance learning from Oct. 5,” he said at a press briefing yesterday.

“This is also a shortsighted position. It does not take into consideration the trade-off for prolonged interruption in the learning process of the children and… the adjustment that has to be made for the succeeding school year if we continue to prolong the already four months of interruption of the learning process for this school year,” he added.

Malaluan described the call for academic freeze as ill informed, saying it takes the readiness issue with respect to online learning when the agency has prepared different ways to deliver instruction through various modalities.

“There is respect for those who – all things considered, for various circumstances – would opt out of this school year, including the academic freezers who might not want to participate in learning continuity,” he said.

“Our singular focus is to ensure safe learning resumption by Oct. 5 through distance and blended learning,” added the DepEd official.

Various sectors earlier called for further postponement of the opening of classes until early next year to give more time to prepare for the shift to blended learning.

Members of the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan last week urged President Duterte to issue an executive order that will postpone the opening of classes in all levels.

The group said the two-month postponement in the opening of classes in public elementary and high schools is not sufficient to close the gaps of the digital divide.

“The pandemic did not only expose the crisis but was exacerbated further by the insistence of DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) to pursue online classes despite severe handicaps in our information technology infrastructure and telecommunication industry,” it added.

DepEd has repeatedly clarified that online-based education is not the only mode of learning that will be adopted this school year, noting other delivery platforms such as the use of modules, radio and television.

CHED chairman J. Prospero De Vera III earlier said that college and universities may adopt flexible learning strategies in lieu of the traditional face-to-face classes that are prohibited due to the pandemic.

De Vera said the academic calendar of higher education institutions are decided by their respective boards based on the way they structure their semesters.

Secretary Briones reiterated that public schools across the country are ready for the opening on Oct. 5.

She said 31,050 schools have accomplished their respective dry-runs before Aug. 24, with the remaining 11,698 scheduled before the opening of classes.

DepEd said all field offices were required to conduct dry-runs to assess the effectiveness and accessibility of the chosen modalities.

“These dry-runs reflect the readiness of the field offices in conducting classes throughout the whole school year,” it added.

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