By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Private schools were caught off-guard by the announcement of a possible school opening in September. They said that a further delay in the opening of classes would have a “serious social and economic impact” on the school community and may even “kill” private learning institutions.
The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), which serves as the unifying voice of private education in the Philippines, said that the sudden announcement on a possible September school opening by Presidential Spokesperson and Inter-Agency Task Force on Infectious Emerging Diseases (IATF-IED) Spokesman Harry Roque, Jr. came as a “surprise” as this was not part of the initial discussions with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
“We are surprised by the announcement because we are in discussions with DepEd and CHED on school opening,” said COCOPEA Managing Director Atty. Joseph Noel Estrada.
Private schools, Estrada said, were “made to understand that August is the latest date for a school opening” because this is also consistent with RA 7797 which states that school opening should not be earlier than June but not later than August.
Roque noted that the September school opening was purportedly an IATF recommendation. Estrada noted that if that were the case, “we hope that a September opening would be only for face to face holding of classes, but private schools may be allowed to open the academic year in August or earlier using open distance learning, online, and other flexible delivery modes.”
Estrada warned that a strictly September opening would have “serious” social and economic impact on the school community. Among the social impacts of the September school opening effect on the learning of students and delay in subsequent school years which – as a result – would lead to eventual delay in production of needed workforce in the country.
“Under a shortened school year or semester, students’ learning may be insufficient,” Estrada explained. “It will delay subsequent school years, and our system is not ready to permanently shift to September opening [and] it will delay graduation in college, delay licensure exams, and eventual delay in producing professionals and workforce needed by our country,” he added.
On the economic side, Estrada explained that the delay of school opening might result to teachers and faculty changing careers because of the delay in their salaries. “The country already has a shortage of licensed teachers and faculty,” he said. “Even part-time faculty in State Universities and Colleges who are currently under no work no pay would have to endure another months of no pay,” he added.
Given all these, Estrada cautioned that “many private schools will downsize and even close leaving many of its school personnel jobless” if school opening will be pushed back to September and even later months.
Earlier, the Federation of Associations of Private School Administrators (FAPSA) also expressed dismay to the reported declaration of IATF recommending September school opening.
“FAPSA member schools will cease to exist if September opening shall be mandated,” FAPSA President Eleazardo Kasilag said. “When that happens, the problem of private schools may not be the lack of students but lack of teachers,” he added.
Kasilag noted that the teachers in small and medium size FAPSA-member schools “are crying for their survival right now.” Private schools, he explained, “survive on tuition fees” and currently, most of them already have “big collectibles that we missed to get because classes are stopped in March.”
For FAPSA, private schools should be allowed to hold classes as early as June or July via the online mode. “We shall hold eLearning classes because some private schools have strong connectivity, most of our students have cellphone or tablets, we have modules for eBooks and our teachers are techie,” he added.
School opening recommendations
In a Malacañang press briefing on April 24, Roque clarified that the recommendation was “subject to compliance with the law and recommendation” of the DepEd.
National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Acting Secretary Karl Chua also explained that the recommendation was based on the outcomes of their health study. “Let’s wait for the DepEd to present (its) recommendation and the IATF will declare if it’s already a policy,” he added.
DepEd has refused to issue any “further comment” on the matter after Roque and Chua clarified the September school opening recommendation.
In an earlier phone interview with the Manila Bulletin, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said that DepEd is still eyeing the month of August to open schools based on its consultation with its key officials and stakeholders and the provision of the law. She also maintained that “there is no final decision on school opening yet” as DepEd will be presenting its recommendation on opening of classes to the IATF-IED first.
DepEd Undersecretary and Spokesperson Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan also noted that concerned internal units of DepEd are completing the Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) as a response to the COVID-19-related disruptions in education in the country and will present its recommendation on school opening to the IATF-IED. “We target to present by 1st week of May,” he ended.