By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
With the ongoing implementation of the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) covering the entire Luzon, the Department of Education (DepEd) said most of its programs and activities are “on hold” but the work still continues, particularly those related to salaries and benefits of its personnel as well as the initial preparations for the opening of the next school year.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, in a phone interview with the Manila Bulletin, said that with the prevailing ECQ, majority of the scheduled programs and activities of the DepEd are postponed or suspended until further notice.
“If the ‘lockdown’ works, there will be a review of the situation and we will see by then how the policies in place would change,” Briones said when asked about the scheduled activities of DepEd. Despite this, she assured that “we continue our preparations” because “anything can happen.”
To date, Briones said all scheduled DepEd activities, including those that are related to the school opening, are currently on hold due to the ECQ. “But we don’t stop working. We continue to discuss possible scenarios. The skeletal system does not work for us because we are very big,” she said.
Scheduled activities, school opening
Due to the class suspension in Metro Manila and other areas, adjustments were made in the calendar for School Year (SY) 2019-2020. In particular, the schedule for final examinations was adjusted. Schools in areas with class suspension were allowed to forego the administration of the final examinations and were directed to use transmutation tables for computing the grades of students.
The end-of-school year rites were also adjusted. DepEd, however, allowed schools to conduct moving up, graduation, or recognition rites on April 13 to 17. However, schools should ensure that the rites will be conducted following the guidelines set by the DepEd, Department of Health (DOH), and other related agencies, with emphasis on the implementation of social distancing measures.
In consultation with the Parents Teachers Association (PTA), DepEd said schools “may choose to reschedule or forego the holding of the rites should the public health situation prevents the holding of the rites within the said period.”
Based on school calendar for SY 2019-2020, other scheduled activities of DepEd in the next two months include the distribution of cards, the start of summer classes, and the conduct of the National Games (Palarong Pambansa).
Preparations for the opening of the coming school year are also scheduled in May including the the annual National Schools Maintenance Week or “Brigada Eskwela” and the “Oplan Balik Eskwela” which are yearly initiatives to engage agencies, organizations, and all other stakeholders in preparation for the opening of the school year.
Under Republic Act No. 7977, the “Act to Lengthen the School Calendar from Two Hundred (200) days to not more that Two Hundred Twenty (220) Class Days,” the “school year shall start on the first Monday of June but not later than the last day of August.” If this is followed, the opening of classes for School Year (SY) 2020-2021 will be on June 1, Monday.
Given the current situation related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Briones said that DepEd is also bracing itself for possible changes in policies. “At this point, anything can happen. There are many studies estimating how long this outbreak will last. But we remain hopeful that this will be moderated or curbed soon,” she added.
While most scheduled activities are on hold, Briones assured that “we still work as if everything will fall into place – as scheduled.”
In Luzon, Briones said that there are over 460,000 personnel. “What we’re doing right now is fast-tracking their salaries,” she said. Within this week, she noted that salaries of teaching and non-teaching personnel for April might be “paid in full.”
Briones said DepEd’s Curriculum and Instruction (CI) is also preparing for possible scenarios should the public health situation worsen. Recently, DepEd launched its online learning platform called “DepEd Commons.”
Barely a week after its launching, DepEd Commons has been getting support from hundreds of teachers and parents. The platform aids distance learning with the use of gadgets and online content.
Online learning is one of the options that are being utilized by schools to ensure learning. Briones said that many private schools “are already doing it.” While DepEd has its own initiatives to beef up online learning platforms, she admitted that this may not be possible or applicable for all students in the public school system.
“Of course, there are public schools that can do this. For instance, I went to a school in Abra and the students benefits from tablet learning,” she shared. “However, it has to be harmonized,” she said.
Briones said DepEd is already preparing for any eventuality. While most intervention plans are still fluid, she noted that “what’s important is that DepEd is ready” and that the “education of learners will continue” despite crisis and emergencies.