Following President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive to suspend face-to-face classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, schools in the Philippines
opened in the middle of a raging pandemic using distance learning – a mix of online learning and physical modules.
As expected, the decision to resume classes was met with criticisms as electronic media delivered by the internet, radio, and TV broadcasts to mobile devices, computers, TV, and radio sets became a necessary component of blended or hybrid learning.
Many questioned the soundness of the policy as many Filipino households, even teachers, don’t even have the devices, let alone access to decent and fast internet connectivity. Aside from this, increasing internet subscription costs also hounded learners and instructors.
As criticisms pile up — including the public’s almost weekly commentary on numerous faulty modules given to students as young as six or seven years old — and dwindled eventually, the country’s COVID-19 situation “dramatically improved.”
With this, some senators urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider resuming face-to-face classes, as they expressed apprehensions about whether students can retain much from the current modes of remote learning, especially those who are unable to take online classes.
DepEd Usec. Nepomuceno Malaluan argued that if full-body massages, cockfighting, and other close contact activities are now allowed by the authorities, why not “localized and limited” face-to-face elementary and high school classes in areas where there is zero or low COVID-19 cases?
The lawmakers and Malaluan’s call was seconded by the Department of Health (DOH), saying that it was open to resuming face-to-face classes in the Philippines, but only in areas where there is “low to minimal risk” of COVID-19 cases.
But are teachers, students, and their parents ready for the possible resumption of face-to-face classes given that the dangers of COVID-19 are still around and could easily infiltrate schools?
For the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines, the Duterte administration must address first various problems in schools such as the lack of water supply, functional clinics and school nurses, and large class sizes before allowing face-to-face classes — even if this will be on a limited or “voluntary” basis.
“We have had enough of government orders that were not partnered with sufficient funding and ample preparations, as what had happened with distance learning where teachers and learners were ultimately left to fund for the needs and fend for themselves,” said ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio.
“This should not happen again with (the resumption of) face-to-face classes, as it poses (a) clear and present danger to the health and lives of the stakeholders, as such, Duterte and Education officials should stop issuing orders from their high tower and start doing their job,” Basilio added.
It is undeniable that education was among the sectors changed so drastically by the COVID-19 pandemic. The new mode of learning is alien to the majority of students as well as to their teachers. And lessons amid the new normal are certainly harder to grasp than the usual face-to-face classes during the pre-pandemic era.
Just like the others, I also miss face-to-face classes tremendously. But to argue that a low COVID-19 infection rate in various areas of the country could be a sign that a dry run of face-to-face classes may transpire now, I beg to differ. The infectious disease is still out there and could still kill anyone anytime soon.
Resumption of one-on-one classes may not be a good idea. But I am not the president of this country. The decision to allow the pilot implementation or dry run of face-to-face classes doesn’t rest on me. So this is now on you, Mr. President. The responsibility lies upon you.