The Department of Education has extended the school year for basic education to July 10, 2021 through DepEd Order No. 012, s. 2021 which amended the school calendar for 2020 to 2021.
The department declared an intervention and remediation week from March 1 to 12 to address learning gaps among students and to give time to teachers for the different learning delivery modalities.
In a statement, the department said it identified a need to address learning gaps in order to “meet the required essential learning competencies.”
“These learning gaps are attributable to reduced academic opportunities at home and substantial loss of live contact with teachers,” the DepEd said.
From March 1 to 12, the DepEd said schools should conduct intervention and remediation activities based on the “unique needs of the learners as determined through the results of the different forms of assessments administered for the past two quarters.”
This developed as former vice president Jejomar Binay on Tuesday added his voice to those opposing an easing of quarantine restrictions next month, saying such a move would be premature, despite the start of the government’s vaccination program against COVID-19.
Following the vaccination of more than 700 medical frontliners Monday, some government officials began to push again for a lowering of the quarantine status of Metro Manila and other areas with a high number of COVID-19 infections.
"This is still premature. Let’s not forget that the event was ceremonial. The bulk shipments of vaccines are not coming yet because the government has not yet signed any contract with the vaccine manufacturers," Binay said.
In the Senate, Senators Sherwin Gatchalian, Nancy Binay, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Pia Cayetano, Joel Villanueva, and Juan Edgardo Angara filed a resolution calling for the immediate launch of pilot tests of localized and limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
Senate Resolution No. 668 recommends that the pilot tests start in 1,065 public schools nationwide identified by the DepEd in its risk assessment.
The resolution adds that the pilot tests, which should follow the most stringent mitigation measures and health protocols, will help the DepEd gather on-the-ground evidence and design its framework for the safe reopening of schools.
The government has said it aims to immunize 50 million to 70 million people.
"Over 700 were vaccinated yesterday, and many frontliners remain hesitant. The bigger challenge is to convince them to get the vaccine shots regardless of brand or country of origin as long as they have been certified by the Food and Drug Administration," Binay said.
Binay said the bulk of the purchased vaccines will start arriving by the second or third quarter of the year.
The former vice president earlier praised President Rodrigo Duterte for deciding not to relax the restrictions this month, saying the public’s health and welfare should always be the government’s top priority.
"If only the administration acted with the same focus, efficiency and resolve early last year, we would not be in the sordid situation we are in now," he said.
Binay said the mishandling of vaccine procurement joins the long list of examples of poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The President earlier turned down a DepEd proposal to begin pilot testing of face-to-face classes.
But Pangilinan said the government needs to prepare for mass return to school by pilot-testing face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
He said intermittent internet connections, the cost of mobile data added to daily expenses, and the lack of a proper gadget are some of the problems that come with the DepEd’s blended distance learning program.
In his co-sponsorship of the resolution, Pangilinan said: "We owe it to our students, their parents, school faculty and staff, to be able to provide a safe environment to resume classes. We can only do that if we have the experience,” he said.
Under the GCQ (general community quarantine) and MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) lockdowns, the government now allows the re-opening of amusement parks, cinemas, and shopping centers at a limited capacity. Minors as young as 10 years may now go out to visit malls and other recreational establishments.
“Even the massage parlors are allowed to reopen, but our schools may not. Where are our priorities?” he said in Filipino.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the pandemic’s greatest damage may have been “incarcerating millions of children and sending the educational system to the ICU.”
These kids may end up as the “lost generation,” Recto said, if the return to normalcy will be “slowed down by vaccine shortage, and if we fail to adjust to and invest in new learning modes.”
Recto aired his concerns in his speech sponsoring the Senate resolution urging the Department of Education to test limited in-person classes in about 1,000 schools, saying that the results can be used “in designing how safely these can be done.”
The larger picture is that the pandemic has hit hard a school system with “severe preexisting conditions,” Recto said.
“Even before the first coronavirus-carrying bat flew out of a Wuhan tree, our country had already been lagging behind in many international tests that measure learning,” he said.
And there are fears that this pandemic “will allow us to bag the last spot uncontested,” Recto said.
“If this pandemic will set us back two years in human resource development, then the delay will have an impact on the future of this country,” Recto said.
Also on Tuesday, BluePrintPH, a research and campaigns company, said Filipinos have raised concern on the mental health of students who face prolonged school closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
BluePrintPH said education was extensively discussed among the country’s 80 million Facebook users from March 2020 to January 2021.
The top Facebook posts on education relate to the deaths by suicide, and by accident of two female students, posted separately on Facebook by the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP).