Save our children from ‘learning crisis’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Sen. Gatchalian’s ARAL bill intends to target the “learning crisis” afflicting many Filipino grade school children.

 Before the bells ring at 6 o’ clock in the morning on Monday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian will be joining millions of Filipino children who are all going back to school. Sen. Gatchalian disclosed he would accompany Vice President (VP) Sara Duterte as the concurrent Secretary of the Department of Education (DepEd) to personally inspect and oversee the resumption of the face-to-face classes.

For two school years, the DepEd implemented “blended learning” following the outbreak here of the deadly coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. The “blended learning” combines the use of online, or via internet, and printed modules, or the workbooks given to students for home study as the safest way to control the spread of COVID-19 infection.

On the first day of classes, Sen.Gatchalian disclosed he and the VP would check the situation on the grounds in selected school sites and personally look at the various health protection measures to safeguard students as well as teachers against COVID-19 infection. As the chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, Sen.Gatchalian welcomed the DepEd decision to resume the face-to-face classes in all public and private schools nationwide.

As the featured guest last Wednesday in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum, Sen.Gatchalian believes it is safe to resume physical attendance to schools even while the country still suffers from what he termed as “mini-surges” of COVID-19 cases. Incidentally, this is also Gatchalian’s first time to attend our face-to-face weekly news forum that we are now holding again at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate.

Gatchalian’s last guesting at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay was via online Zoom Webinar on Nov.17 last year. Or this was during the campaign period when he ran for re-election in the May 9 polls and won a fresh mandate under the UniTeam ticket of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) and VP Duterte.

Gatchalian noted with satisfaction the report of the Department of Health (DOH) that more than 70 percent of the country’s population got jabbed already with two primary doses of anti-COVID vaccines. Moreover, he cited, the DOH has set up a strategic 3,131 vaccination centers in selected schools nationwide to intensify the “PinasLakas” vaccine program of the government. As far as he knows it, Gatchalian noted, these DOH vaccination centers will target both parents and schoolchildren from ages 12 to 17 years old who have yet to get jabbed for their primary anti-COVID doses and those who have yet to complete their second dose.

So far, he noted with satisfaction, the DepEd will implement two shifts of classes to accommodate 35 students per classroom as part of social distancing to prevent spread of COVID-19. However, he noted with concern, the projected increase in student enrollment in public schools with the shutdown of some 400 private schools during the two-year pandemic. Thus, the Senator supports the need of DepEd to hire an additional 30,000 teachers.

Meanwhile, Gatchalian looks forward to further improvement of the country’s educational services once the Republic Act 11713, or the Teachers Education Act is implemented. Co-authored and sponsored by Gatchalian, RA 11713 took effect in April this year.

Gatchalian scheduled a public hearing of the Senate committee on basic education on Friday, Aug.26. They will seek assessments from DepEd, parents’ groups and the rest of the academic community after the first four days of classes. In this way, he pointed out, his Senate committee will be guided to determine the further needs of DepEd that can be included in their proposed budget next year. The Senate committee hearing coincides with the submission to the 19th Congress of the proposed 2023 budget bill, or a month after the state of the nation address of the President.

Meanwhile, Sen.Gatchalian announced he filed last week a proposed legislation under Senate Bill 150, or the Academic Recovery and Accessible Learning (ARAL). Aptly dubbed in acronym ARAL bill for short, he explained, it seeks to provide grade school Filipino children a chance “to catch up” their education needs after it was rudely interrupted by the pandemic since March, 2020.

Sen.Gatchalian’s ARAL bill intends to target the “learning crisis” afflicting many Filipino grade school children.

The alarm bells about the “learning crisis” in the Philippines came out from the recently released report of the World Bank’s (WB) comparative review of all Grade 5 school children from countries across the globe. In their review, the WB found more than 90 percent of Grade 5 Filipino students could barely understand what they could read. The effects of the “blended learning” during the pandemic were not taken into account yet in this WB review.

According to Gatchalian, once the ARAL bill becomes a law, it will institutionalize a learning recovery program to ensure that the government provides enough resources for its implementation. As stated in Aral bill, it is a program that will cover the most essential learning competencies under Language and Mathematics for Grades 1 to 10, and Science for Grades 3 to 10. For Kindergarten learners, literacy and numeracy competencies will be given focus to build on their foundational competencies.

The ARAL bill also seeks to tap college students to render tutorial sessions as an option for completing their National Service Training Program (NSTP). Tutor volunteers who will render this service for a period of two semesters shall be deemed to have completed the Literacy Training Service under the NTSP. Or, tutoring can be included as an option to the proposed bill to return the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), he mused.

Actually, this is a refiled bill from the original Senate Bill No. 2355 that Gatchalian filed in 2021 but which failed to get through the legislative mills during the previous 18th Congress.

Our country’s future leaders face bleak prospects unless all these bright ideas in Congress could produce the needed resources at hand to save our children from this “learning crisis” now, not later.


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