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First day of F2F classes: 27 million PH students head back to school after two years of online learning

By Janvic Mateo Published Aug 22, 2022 12:03 pm

Latest data from the Department of Education showed that 27,691,191 students so far have enrolled in public and private kindergarten, elementary and high schools nationwide.

Emily, an incoming Grade 2 student, has never attended in-person classes.

For the past two years, she, like many others her age, has been staying mostly at home, learning through modules and online classes that have been the norm during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emily’s mother Alyssa is both excited and nervous.

“It will be a new environment for her. I hope that she will be able to adjust immediately and enjoy being with her classmates,” Alyssa told The Philippine STAR.

Today, Aug. 22, after one of the longest school closures in the world, Emily will join millions of Filipino students who will once again troop to schools for the opening of classes.

Latest data from the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that 27,691,191 students so far have enrolled in public and private kindergarten, elementary and high schools nationwide.

While still below the agency’s 28.6 million target, the number has exceeded last year’s 27,560,661.

The official enrollment period will end today, the first day of classes, with the DepEd still mum on whether it will allow late enrollees this school year.

The agency has yet to release the breakdown on the latest enrollment data, but an earlier update showed that a large majority of students are in public schools.

Parents crowd the entrance of the Pura V. Kalaw Elementary School in Project 4, Quezon City as they send their children off for the first day of face-to-face classes on Monday.

Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte told the Senate committee on basic education on Friday, Aug. 19, that schools are all set for the start of the school year and the resumption of face-to-face classes.

“Despite the long-standing issues that the DepEd faces, especially on the shortage of classrooms and teachers and the effects of calamities such as typhoons and recent earthquakes, we are doing everything to address these within our means together with your support and the entire Filipino community,” Duterte told the Senate panel.

“We take comfort in the knowledge that our frontliners in the field, our teachers, school heads, school division superintendents and school regional directors are making their utmost ef-forts to allow the safe return to schools by Aug. 22,” she added.

Also last Friday, DepEd spokesman Michael Poa said almost all schools will implement either full or partial in-person classes.

Poa added that 24,175 elementary and high schools, both public and private, would revert to full face-to-face classes, while another 29,721 would implement blended learning or a combination of in-person and distance learning.

Only 1,004 schools said they would continue to implement full distance learning at the start of the school year.

Duterte earlier mandated the return to full in-person classes by Nov. 2, although she informed the Senate that they are also studying the possibility of institutionalizing “blended learning as a permanent mode of instruction for basic education.”

She vowed to work hard to “turn around the quality of basic education in our country in the next six years” amid concerns over significant learning losses during the pandemic.

All systems go

The Vice President will be at the Dinalupihan Elementary School in Bataan this afternoon to personally monitor the opening of classes.

During Friday’s press briefing, Poa maintained that it’s all systems go for the school opening despite the challenges reported in some parts of the country.

He enumerated the various strategies that schools will adopt to address reported shortage of classrooms, chairs and learning materials. These include implementing double or even triple shifts to minimize congestion, construction of temporary learning spaces and replenishment of learning materials damaged by calamities.

“On the gaps in terms of infrastructure, that is something that we are looking at in the long term… but our regional offices are also adopting strategies to accommodate all learners,” Poa said in English and Filipino.

“The regional directors have said that our schools are ready. We are all systems go for Monday,” he added.

Decades-old problems

Teachers are ready for the opening of classes, although many are bracing for the decades-old challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, according to the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC).

“To start with, we are still plagued by the decades-old problem of classroom shortages. In parts of the country, classrooms are still being halved to accommodate more classes. Covered courts are still being converted to makeshift classrooms,” TDC chairperson Benjo Basas said.

“We are still wallowing in the bloated curriculum worsened by inadequate learning materials. Our teachers are still overburdened by redundant clerical work that worsens every day, and we still barely have the additional teachers and non-teaching staff promised by the previous administration,” Basas added.

The TDC also noted bigger class sizes as more students transferred to public schools over the past two years, with some reaching as high as 70 per classroom.

“And despite having the classes under the situation of the pandemic, health workers are not accessible in our schools,” Basas said.

During the same Senate hearing, DepEd Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III admitted a shortage of 91,000 classrooms nationwide.

Densing said the DepEd has instructed its units to set up temporary learning spaces, hold classes in shifts and seek partners that can help provide facilities for in-person activities.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) earlier scored the DepEd for claiming that schools are ready for the opening of classes, saying it is an “outright dismissal” of the problems encountered by those on the ground.

“The fact that less than half of the schools are capable of implementing 100-percent face-to-face classes is proof that there are still a lot of gaps that have yet to be filled and problems that have to be addressed,” ACT chairperson Vladimer Quetua said.

“The least that DepEd can do is to be honest about the situation and own up to the deficiencies,” Quetua added.

Safe reopening

With the pandemic still not fully contained, additional measures will be implemented to minimize the possibility of outbreaks, including the mandatory wearing of face masks.

The DepEd also mandated that classroom doors and windows be opened for ventilation, while students, teaching and non-teaching personnel were prohibited from eating together while facing one another.

“If there is a lack of space in the classroom or school premises to allow distancing during meals, eating shall be done in a matter where all individuals face in one direction and do not talk while their masks are off,” an earlier order issued by Duterte read.

The DepEd also mandated that schools have an infection control plan and containment strategy in the event of the spread of COVID-19.

The agency has yet to release the memorandum on health and safety protocols that it previously said would be issued before the opening of classes.

Education officials earlier said only around 20 percent of students are fully vaccinated, based on latest data from the DepEd’s Learner Information System.

Poa gave assurance that there would be no discrimination between vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

“We will just have to strictly observe our minimum health and safety standards for the security of our learners as well as our teaching and non-teaching staff,” he said.

The agency will hold counseling sessions to encourage more stakeholders to get vaccinated as well as conduct mobile vaccination drives in schools in partnership with the Department of Health.

Readiness on the ground

For Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, the DepEd’s “all systems go” pronouncement for the opening of classes must be matched with the readiness on the ground of the facilities, teachers and students.

“The era of missing classrooms, sharing tables and chairs, and holding classes under the shade of trees must no longer happen,” Villanueva said on Sunday, Aug. 21.

He added that students must have their classes in comfortable classrooms and with complete learning materials as promised by the DepEd as observance of minimum health standards must be ensured with the continued threat of COVID-19.

The opening of a new school year also brings to focus the hardships of public and private school teachers, according to the senator.

“A salary upgrade is ideal, which we will continue to push. But a realistic measure that may be immediately addressed (is) an increase in the allowance of public school teachers, including those in state universities and colleges (SUCs) and state-run technical vocational institutions (TVIs),” he said.

He added that teachers are skilled professionals doing increasingly complex and challenging work.

Outside of their academic tasks, Villanueva said he knows of teachers who end up spending their own money to shoulder classroom-related expenses and to assist needy students so that they continue to be in school.

To alleviate the condition of educators, he said he filed Senate Bill 464, which seeks to provide additional grocery and transportation allowance and medical allowance for teaching and non-teaching personnel in public basic education schools.

He also filed SB 565 to provide the same for teaching personnel in SUCs and TVIs.

PNP ‘all ready’

The Philippine National Police (PNP) is “all ready” for the resumption of face-to-face classes starting today.

In an interview with radio dzBB on Sunday, PNP spokesperson Col. Jean Fajardo said security measures that the PNP has in store for the reopening of classes are now all set.

“Our PNP personnel are already deployed in areas near our schools, including our police assistance desks that we will put up near schools,” Fajardo said in Filipino.

Aside from police assistance desks, the PNP will also deploy “foot patrols,” which have been in place as early as the last week of July.

The police also earlier reached out to school administrators to see target areas for more security.

“We are also anticipating possible petty crimes, because students have gadgets. There may be crimes like snatching, pickpockets, which is why our policemen are ready to ensure that not only our students will be secured, but also our teachers and the parents,” Fajardo said.

The police force earlier said it would deploy about 23,000 officers nationwide for the resumption of face-to-face classes.

OFWs send home more money

Remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) have increased since June as families contend with education expenses in time for today’s official opening of classes in the country.

Earl Melivo, interim Asia-Pacific regional director of leading global payments giant WorldRemit, said they had seen a spike in remittances from all points of the globe into the Philippines.

The surge in remittances, which started in June and peaked in these past weeks of August, is deemed related to scheduled expenses on tuition and other school-related fees and supplies.

Based on WorldRemit’s monitoring, Philippine inbound remittance value amount has so far seen a surge of almost 30 percent from the month of June to July.

“For us, let’s say month on month, not counting this month of August which is not yet finished, but from June to July, probably an uplift of more than 10 percent at the very least,” Melivo told The STAR. “That’s high for a month on month.”

Looking at the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas figures on remittance from May to June, he noted around a 20-percent rise or from P14 billion to P17 billion.

“I would say, that is roughly the same movement that we have. For Philippines overall, it’s upwards of almost 30 percent growth for World Remit (in inbound remittance value increase),” said Melivo, who used to head WorldRemit’s east and southeast Asia and Pacific islands-Receive Markets.

He also pointed out an increase in amounts of dollar remittances being sent by OFWs last July and this month, which could be attributed to the escalating prices of school supplies.

“In our assessment, tuition fees have not risen really. The main reason why our customers are sending more is because of school supplies,” Melivo said. “The higher the need of the recipients, essentially, the higher the amounts that are being sent.”

WorldRemit also observed the global inflation impact on the prices of school supplies as they have presence in 150 countries worldwide, said Melivo.

In the Philippines, it assessed a 40-percent hike in the cost of school supplies. “In other markets, we also see the same thing. In some countries, there’s even a 60-percent hike,” he said. (With Rainier Allan Ronda, Paolo Romero, Ralph Edwin Villanueva)

This story originally appeared on One News