School year shortening

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

In recent events, the Department of Education has reported that the agency will be shortening the next school year by 15 days. According to Department of Education Assistant Secretary Francis Bringas, DepEd plans to start school year 2024-2025 on July 29 and end it on March 31, 2025, with 165 school days or 15 days short of the 180 to 220 days prescribed by the law.

Apart from such a transition and in line with the President’s directive to immediately revert to the school year calendar of June to March, apprehensions on learning competencies have also been expressed, considering how Filipino students are lagging behind based on international assessments.

In response to such concerns however, Assistant Secretary Bringas noted that the department, through its Bureau of Learning Delivery, is crafting a “concrete plan” that hopes to ensure that students can cope and not lag behind despite the shortened school year. Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte also assured that the quality of learning in public schools will not be affected by the gradual return to the old academic calendar.

The issue on the appropriate course of the academic year is not new – in fact, my grand uncle, former Department of Education secretary Alejandro “Anding” Roces, tried to “experiment” on this during his tenure at the department, which he eventually scrapped based on his learnings on the subject.

In Roces’ time, the reasoning behind the initial decision to change the school year was based on the assumption that the rainy season begins in June and heavy rains and floods cause too many problems that keep students out of school too often, hence moving the school year to September would very well mean that it would end in June which, as a result, would not cause students to miss too many days of school.

It was in the 1960’s that Anding Roces tested the feasibility of such an experiment that gradually reset the school year and, as many people have said, to his credit, Roces accepted that it was quite impractical and soon after reverted back to the old school year schedule.

One of the problems that former secretary Roces faced was the fact that students complained that it was too hot to be inside a classroom in the months of April and May, which was certainly not conducive for learning. In the provinces, and as an aside, particularly for the information of those outside of the metro, the months of April and May were harvest months and it was said that many students did not comply with proper attendance in school as their parents needed their assistance during harvest season.

On the other hand, the months of July and August posed a different challenge where students were cooped up in their homes because of the rains. Not to mention, vacation spot owners looking forward to making a good living during vacation season could not do so since families were home literally weathering the storm. On top of it all, by the time the school year began, the months of September to November were still stormy and many school days were lost.

Back in the day, while my grand uncle earned a lot of plus points in reverting back to the old school days, I believe to date, it is quite timely that we are able to see the necessity of having the conscious ability to make the best choices for our students with regard to the matter and with respect to further mitigating our issues on climate change.

At most, history seems to be the best teacher in this day and age as the dangerous heat wave is affecting our students (and the rest of us). Having said this, it is crucial to understand the impact of the numerous factors that affect our learners, the issue on the academic year being just one among many, making it quite reassuring to hear that there are some notable steps to be undertaken with respect to important interventions that are needed to ensure the mastery of competencies.

Legislation also plays a significant role in this matter and the support of our legislators such as Sen. Bong Go where the health and wellbeing of all learners are taken into account, matters tremendously. It is quite encouraging for President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to see this move as essential because after all, education is the greatest equalizer of society.

We’ve been on this road once too many times but it seems to me that this time, we are prepared to execute decisions with better outcomes in addressing this issue once and for all by providing more access, opportunities and proactive measures to ensure that quality education continues.

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