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DepEd chief: School opening woes immediately resolved

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
DepEd chief: School opening woes immediately resolved
The Department of Education chief maintained that the opening of the school year was a success and that they “deal with the problems as they occur on a day-to-day basis.”
Philstar.com / Irish Lising

MANILA, Philippines — While connectivity is a continuing challenge faced by students and teachers during the opening of classes, problems that were reported were minimal and were immediately resolved, according to Education Secretary Leonor Briones.

During a press briefing at Malacañang yesterday, Briones said they received only 96 concerns, including “a few of them about difficulties,” on the first day of classes on Monday.

“These problems were immediately addressed,” Briones said in Filipino. “The continuing challenge that we see is, of course, connectivity, but that is why we adopted blended learning (so there are other alternatives if there are problems) such as connectivity.”

Briones was responding to reports that some students and teachers faced difficulties, particularly connectivity issues, that affected online classes or virtual orientations.

The Department of Education (DepEd) chief maintained that the opening of the school year was a success and that they “deal with the problems as they occur on a day-to-day basis.”

“We are aware of what is happening all over the country because of our communications system. If there are any difficulties, we resolve them and we meet immediately,” she said.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), however, said reports on the ground are different from what education officials are trying to portray.

“We all want education to successfully continue in the midst of this pandemic, but this will depend on how in touch the government is to ground situations and their apt and timely response to identified needs and concerns,” ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio said.

“Clearly, the DepEd remains blind to the realities of teachers, learners and students and, more disturbingly, seemingly intent on staying that way given their recent pronouncement,” Basilio added.

While modular learning is supposed to cater to those who do not have gadgets and internet connectivity, the group stressed that communication is still necessary for teachers to assist parents and students in completing the tasks.

“In Manila and Malabon, teachers lamented that they themselves struggled with stable internet connection. It was worse, however, for their students, especially the poorer ones,” Basilio said, citing reports of parents failing to attend virtual orientations due to lack of compatible gadgets or the technical know-how to operate the necessary applications.

“Teachers worried how students would be able to fulfill their schoolwork if they (could not) meet online to discuss what needs to be done. Some parents have also expressed how they needed the guidance of teachers, given that they hardly attended school themselves,” he added.

Briones said they have established programs to support parents as they take on a greater role in the education of their children.

The DepEd is also set to release the guidelines for the hiring of learner support aides who will help teachers in assisting the students.

In terms of module distribution, Basilio said there are schools that have yet to receive the centralized materials produced by the national office, prompting schools to develop their own materials.

“In the divisions of Caloocan, Manila and Malabon, local modules arrived late, and some were littered with errors or lacked certain pages. In Quezon City, the division decided to dedicate the first two weeks to diagnostic tests, orientations and other activities,” he added.

Public schools have already distributed over 329 million out of the 921 million printed modules for the first grading, according to the DepEd. Subsequent distributions will be held in the coming weeks.

Too early

Given the issues that were reported, Basilio emphasized that it is too early for the DepEd to declare victory for the education sector.

“The mere opening of classes is not by itself a victory against (COVID-19) and its disruptive impacts on the people’s lives, especially not a claim that the government can make,” he said.

“It was teachers’ hard work and sacrifices that enabled us to open schools, costing us personal resources and to the detriment of our own well-being,” he added.

Briones on Monday declared the opening of classes a victory, citing the challenges that they faced in preparing for the shift to the blended learning approach.

“We declare our victory over COVID 19 – the destroyer of our lives and destroyer of our economy and of our society. But we will not allow COVID-19 to destroy our children’s education and their future,” she said.

War not over

In an interview with “The Chiefs” on One News/TV 5 on Monday night, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the victory declaration does not mean that the war against the pandemic and its impact on the education sector is already over.

“That’s a very narrow understanding of what the secretary wanted to say,” he said. “Did we win the war? I don’t think we won the war, but we won something today and that is being able to start.”

Malaluan noted groups calling for academic freeze or the postponement of the opening of classes until the end of the year.

“Up to the last minute there are those who would say, freeze education. There are followers of this notion, and I think the secretary was referring to that as a victory,” he said.

“I don’t think the secretary was declaring a victory in a war, but stating a reality of a major battle that has been won, which is we were able to open classes at last,” he added.

Overall, Malaluan said DepEd and its partners did well in the opening of classes despite specific issues and difficulties faced in some classes, schools or areas.

The successful start of the school year, however, is just the first chapter in the response of the education sector to the impact of the pandemic.

“We now go to the next chapter, which is to ensure that the learning process happens under the present condition,” the DepEd official said.

Palace congratulates DepEd

Despite connectivity issues encountered by some students and teachers, Malacañang congratulated the DepEd for pushing through with the opening of classes last Monday amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Congratulations, Secretary Briones! Congratulations to the DepEd family and to the entire Philippines because we won against COVID when we started classes yesterday,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing yesterday.

“Congratulations for beating the destroyer – COVID-19,” he added.

Roque recently drew flak for saying that the Philippines had “won” because the number of COVID-19 cases in the country did not reach 40,000 by the end of June as predicted by experts from the University of the Philippines. He later clarified that he does not regard UP as the enemy, and that he was just urging ordinary people to join the battle against the disease.

Last Monday, Duterte said the pandemic should not prevent the education of students.

“Indeed, nothing can get in the way of the instruction and formation of our learners, not even a pandemic,” Duterte said in his message for the opening of the new academic year.

“This time also ushers in a new era in our basic education program as we now venture into distance and online learning, a challenging frontier not only for students and teachers, but for parents and guardians as well,” he added.

The President has urged all sectors to work together to ensure that the learning process would continue despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic.

Cash, livelihood aid for teachers

Meanwhile, cash and livelihood assistance await teachers who were displaced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said yesterday.

“They may avail (themselves) of livelihood, but initially, we will give them one time-cash assistance,” Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said.

For the teachers to avail themselves of the cash assistance under the government’s COVID Adjustment Measures Program (CAMP), educational institutions must notify the DOLE of the closure.

“If educational institutions decide to close, they must notify us and … to be able to avail of the CAMP benefit, they have to give us their list of workers who lost their jobs so that we can give them, initially, cash assistance,” he said.

“Companies that will stop operations, whether educational or business, are required to notify the DOLE on how many workers will be affected and they have to explain the reason for the closure,” he added.

The DOLE initiated CAMP, a safety net program that offers  P5,000 financial support to affected workers in private establishments that have adopted flexible working arrangements or temporary closure during the pandemic.

Disinfect learning modules

With the coronavirus known to survive on surfaces for a certain period of time, the Department of Health (DOH) has urged parents to disinfect the learning modules received by their children.

In an interview with “The Chiefs,” DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said parents should exercise caution when receiving the learning modules needed by their children for their online classes.

“The minimum health standards should always be observed, hand washing and, of course, mothers should know how to disinfect their children’s school materials,” she added.

Vergeire maintained that merely exposing the modules under the sun “for about a number of hours” will already do.

“We are referring to natural disinfection… No need to buy expensive disinfectant,” she said.

Parents, according to Vergeire, should always remind their children to constantly wash their hands and avoid touching their faces to prevent coronavirus infection.

The DOH is also closely monitoring the opening of schools, especially since this still entails teachers traveling to their respective schools to conduct online classes.

“We will analyze the situation for a few weeks… It is important to make sure that everybody is observing health protocols so that further transmission of classes will be minimized,” Vergeire said. – Alexis Romero, Mayen Jaymalin, Sheila Crisostomo, Cecille Suerte Felipe

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