Malacañang on Monday said that the opening of classes may start on Aug. 24 but schools will implement various approaches in teaching students, such as technology-mediated learning through computers and cell phones, the use of media like television and radio, and other offline methods.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made this clarification after President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not allow the opening of classes if students would crowd inside a classroom before there is a vaccine.
READ: Duterte says no school until there is a virus vaccine
“It does not mean that there will be no classes when the President said he will not allow students to crowd inside a classroom,” Roque said, saying that under the “new normal, students are not necessarily to physically report to school as some classes may be held virtually.”
In a late Monday night public address, Duterte said he was not keen on reopening the classes until the safety of students is guaranteed by a vaccine.
“It is useless to talk about the opening of classes when there is no vaccine yet against the COVID-19,” Duterte said.
“For this generation, no one will finish medicine, even engineering. Because there’ll be no lessons…let them play. Unless I am sure that they are really safe,” the President added.
However, Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has agreed to resume classes on Aug. 24 based on the premise that all areas would be under general community quarantine (GCQ) by then.
During televised press briefing, Roque said schools that will conduct face-to-face or in-person classes can open not earlier than Sept. 1, while the government may issue new protocols for the resumption of classes if some areas are still under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) by Aug. 24.
He said that schools could tap alternative learning methods while suspending extracurricular activities and events that would involve mass gatherings.
“There will also be the cancellation of extracurricular activities where there are large crowds like school sports, campus journalism, job fairs and others,” Roque said.
The IATF has yet to decide on the fate of the ECQ and GCQ in the country, which is set to expire on May 31.
Meanwhile, a labor group supported Duterte’s proposal to suspend classes until a vaccine is available, as it cited the case in South Korea where South Korean students were infected after the opening of classes.
Partido Manggagawa Secretary General Judy Miranda said sending their children to school is a choice which is exceedingly difficult to decide for poor families, who cannot even get free mass testing and adequate subsidies to secure their own health and economic survival at home.
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“Not enrolling when schools officially open in August places unnecessary pressure on both parents and students whose dreams of getting out of the poverty trap the soonest time possible through education remain high despite the pandemic,” Miranda said.
She said alternative learning modalities like E-learning or distance learning “is a sound idea as long as the infrastructure for it is ready and universally accessible to all students of all classes, public and private.”
Miranda said the government must study what would be the best time for school to open by not risking the safety of students.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the President’s remarks should not stop education stakeholders from fine-tuning the ways students can learn amid the pandemic without making them sick.
Recto said finding alternatives to face-to-face instruction is like answering a multiple-choice test. To be sick should not be one of them.
“Let us find the mix that will allow the 30 million children of this country to continue with their education without putting them in harm’s way. Let us see to it that even if schools are locked down, education is not placed in quarantine,” he said.
The senator said this can be done by customizing the alternatives into one blend that will meet a learner’s socioeconomic profile.
“I have high confidence in the ability of the teachers of this land to adapt to the new normal, more so if they are empowered with the right tools to make a learner-centered adjustment,” said Recto.
In the meantime, he cited the need to work on the country’s IT infrastructure to close the digital divide.
He said the role of telcos—including the incoming third one—to ramp up internet speed and penetration is crucial if lessons will be coursed through the internet.
“Our failure to work around the virus will spawn a lost generation that will hurt the future of this country. It will harm children of poor families who have embraced education as a ticket out of poverty. It will widen the gap between rich and poor,” said Recto.