The Department of Health said Wednesday authorities were still not recommending the resumption of face-to-face classes in schools in the country as almost all areas still have active COVID-19 cases.
The DOH said this amid calls for limited physical classes in certain programs.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III previously said that face-to-face classes might resume in areas with zero COVID-19 cases.
However, during a DOH briefing on Wednesday, he said that key areas continued to report new COVID-19 cases.
“In terms of provinces, and highly urbanized cities and independent component cities, almost none of them have zero cases for the last 2 to 4 weeks,” Duque said.
“All of them recorded cases except for Batanes. Batanes is the only place that recorded zero COVID cases for the last 2 to 4 weeks,” he said.
“Our policy right now is to continue to have no face-to-face classes.” Duque stressed, saying this was President Rodrigo Duterte’s directive.
Meanwhile, Sen. Christopher Go dismissed Wednesday calls for the resumption of face-to-face learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
He reaffirmed his position in support of President Duterte’s stand not to allow physical classes in schools until a safe vaccine for COVID-19 is ready for distribution, especially to the poor and vulnerable sectors.
“No vaccine, no face-to-face classes, that’s the firm stand of President (Rodrigo] Duterte … Not yet time. No vaccine yet, no face-to-face classes,” stressed the chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography.
His statement came after criticisms were raised on the reluctance of the national government to allow physical classes to resume, while permitting cockpits and other recreational activities.
While acknowledging the challenges of holding online classes, Go countered that one could not reopen schools and other educational institutions without the risk of exposing students, the school staff, and wider communities to the existing threats of the pandemic.
He said if the President would decide to allow face-to-face classes, government must craft guidelines.
For one, physical classes may only be held in areas with minimal risk of COVID-19 and health facilities in these areas must have enough capacity to deal with new infections, especially patients who might need critical care, Duque said.
In a related development, Secretary Carlito Galvez, chief implementer at the National Task Force Against COVID-19, said the possible resumption of face-to-face classes would be approved on a “case to case” basis.
Authorities are studying allowing on-campus classes, especially for medical schools, depending on how much the country needs additional health front liners, he said.
The inter-agency task force against COVID-19 earlier allowed the University of the Philippines to resume its in-person medical internship program.
The IATF will coordinate with Education Secretary Leonor Briones “on how we could really expedite and look at the possibility” of reconfiguring schools so they can follow health standards, said Galvez.
Galvez noted the population of K-12 learners was large, more or less 16 million, and “Once one of them becomes a super spreader, we will find it very difficult (to control the spread).”
He added: “For now we cannot be confident yet because our figures are not yet irreversible.”
Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) is still not closing doors to holding limited face-to-face classes, especially for students that need early childhood education, an official said Wednesday.
Speaking on ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo, Education Undersecretary Diosdado Antonio said they would recommend holding selected classroom teaching provided they observe strict health protocols in areas without COVID-19 cases or those with less transmission risk.
“This is DepEd’s response [to] the persistent clamor [of local government units (LGUs) and parents] to have limited face-to-face [classes],” he said in Filipino.
The resumption of in-person classes is crucial to the learning process of early grade students - those from kindergarten until third grade -- because it lays the foundation for lifelong learning and total development of children, Antonio said.
“Our basis is who needs the most attention,” he said, adding some students might not get proper education at home.
Should it push through although not likely until yearend, he said strict health measures such as physical distancing would be imposed to ensure the well-being of students and teachers. There must also be proper coordination with schools and local officials, he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte in July had prohibited in-person classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available in the country. He said face-to-face classes might resume in January next year.
Classes in public schools in the country opened in October under a blended distance learning system due to the continuing threat of COVID-19.
Jennifer Rosario, chapter president of the National Parent Teachers Association Federation in Mimaropa, also proposed conducting in-person classes once a week.
“So, the students will be assessed if they really have learned something at home,” she said in Filipino.
Rosario noted that some parents in their area were illiterate so they could not teach their children properly. Some families don’t even have television or radio, she added.
Under the blended learning system, students receive lessons through printed or offline modules, online learning and television or radio-based instruction.
Meanwhile, a group of private school administrators said Wednesday colleges and universities must come up with a virus resurgence plan if they will be allowed to resume face-to-face classes.
Government officials on Tuesday inspected the Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, which “retrofitted” its facilities for the possible conduct of in-person classes by January.
The CHED is set to release guidelines on the conduct of limited in-person classes within the month so higher education institutions could hold such type of instruction by early next year.
Aside from retrofitting and virus resurgence planning, class shifting is also among guidelines that the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations submitted to the Inter-Agency Task Force on COVID-19 and the Commission on Higher Education, said its managing director Joseph Noel Estrada.
He told ABS-CBN’s Teleradyo: “We’re looking not at the readiness of resuming face-to-face classes but what will happen if there’s a transmission, a resurgence because it’s easy to reopen.”
To help address the challenges caused by new teaching techniques through blended learning, Go had urged concerned agencies to work with DepEd and provide alternative, remote learning methods that can improve the delivery of education to students who have no internet connection.
He also called on the Department of Information and Communications Technology and other concerned agencies to work together to fulfill the vision of providing better internet access that is affordable for all Filipinos.
“Let me reiterate: no vaccine, no face-to-face as much as possible.”