Philippines opens schools virtually again with no nod yet on classroom learning

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Philippines opens schools virtually again with no nod yet on classroom learning
Parents check the self-learning modules and books distributed at General Roxas Elementary School in Quezon City on Sept. 9, 2021.
The STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines on Monday began a new school year for over 24 million students under a learning setup still carried out remotely with no government approval yet for limited in-person classes. 

Enrollment figures as of early morning of September 13 was 93.8% of last year's turnout, or 24.60 million against the 26.22 million in 2020. 

Broken down, most students or 18.56 million are in public schools, only 1.44 million in private, while 198,297 in the Department of Education's Alternative Learning System. Those in ALS make up only 33.08% of the 599,365 last year.

DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said there is indication those who skipped schooling in 2020 would be returning this year. The agency said it will continue accepting enrollment until September 30. 

"The challenges we are facing now are even tougher than those we battled last year," said Secretary Leonor Briones in a program to mark the school opening that groups said is still marred by the same difficulties in 2020. 

DepEd's blended learning setup was severely criticized last year amid errors in resource materials, as well as for its economic woes on families to provide internet access or gadgets for students. 

Raymond Basilio of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers scored the government for still not allowing a limited return to classrooms, even in areas with low virus transmission.

"We will be forced into another school year of the underfunded and ill-equipped distance learning," he said, "with still no plans from the government on how it can safely reopen our schools nor on how it will address the grave issues hounding DepEd's learning continuity plan."

Education officials have crafted a plan to President Rodrigo Duterte on a pilot run for face-to-face learning, but he has repeatedly rejected the agency's proposal. 

The United Nations Children's Fund has said the Philippines is among the last countries in the world, along with Venezuela, that have yet to reopen schools physically since 2020.

But essentially, the picture on a return to classrooms seems bleak for now. The country is battling record-high coronavirus cases — its highest so far at 26,303 on September 11 — and government is still not opening vaccinations for children citing limited supply of the jabs. 

"It's time for our calls to be heard," said Basilio in mixed English and Filipino. "Government should respond to the need for a safe return to schools and quality education for all."




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