By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Education Secretary Leonor Briones appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday to allow the Department of Education (DepEd) to continue its preparations for the opening of classes this incoming School Year (SY) 2020-2021 based on its roadmap.
In a public address aired late Monday, the President met with several Cabinet members including Briones to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the country – particularly the status of community quarantines imposed in various areas.
Briones gave the President an update on the ongoing efforts of the DepEd to ensure learning continuity amid the health crisis. She also appealed to the President to allow DepEd to continue its preparations for the formal opening of classes scheduled in August.
“Our appeal is to allow us to continue our preparations based on the roadmap because our target is no face-to-face [conduct of classes] on August 24 and to allow us to continue our preparations because we have already started,” Briones said. “If suddenly we pull to a stop, then we stumble because we are moving very, very fast,” she added.
Briones noted that DepEd’s regional directors are giving regular updates from their respective areas when it comes to school opening related concerns. Based on these reports from the field, she assured the President that he will be provided with “readiness updates” as needed.
Since April, Briones said the DepEd has already started its roadmap. “We had to select or identify a date [of school opening] because we cannot keep people hanging,” she explained. “We have to have a target. We have to have a goal in view of all these developments,” she added.
No face-to-face classes
During the meeting, the President reiterated his earlier pronouncement that he will not allow “face-to-face” conduct of classes until a vaccine against COVID-19 is made available.
“As announced, schools will open on August 24 but there are still no face-to-face sessions until we get a vaccine,” Duterte said. “We will follow a blended learning approach [and] part of this learning strategy is distance and online learning using communications technology and digital devices,” he added.
Briones assured that the DepEd will comply with this directive as it readies various alternative learning delivery modalities that will cater to the needs of learners.
“Many assume that when you say opening of the school year, therefore it is face-to-face, and we have been saying that it is not but it takes time for the idea to sink in,” she added.
Briones also discussed the current national enrollment in both public and private schools at over 10 million. She also tackled the implementation of blended or distance learning this coming school year.
“We are placing emphasis on these alternative technologies because we agree with you that we should not be allowing our children to go to school or our teachers to go to school at this time until it is absolutely safe for them but they can continue learning,” Briones said. Aside from the various delivery modalities, she also shared the upskilling of “teachers as well as the students themselves.”
Briones also mentioned the support needed by DepEd from the local and national levels, especially when it comes to the implementation of blended learning via ICT platforms. “We would really be seeking your support in [financing] matters where we need equipment or we have to use facilities,” she said.
She noted that some regional directors are also negotiating with local radio stations to “reduce the cost” if the learning modality to be used in a specific area is through radio.
Duterte said that the government will try to “look for money to buy transistor radios to be distributed throughout the country” especially to remote or far-flung areas without television or cellular phones. “We will try to do it, we might not be able to succeed in bringing all of it to the barangay level but we will try,” he added.
He also assured that he will provide the support needed by DepEd especially when it comes to providing means to poor learners. “Even without a face there, as long as you are really interested to learn, [you can],” he said.
Briones thanked the President for his “unstinting, unquestioning support” and assured that DepEd is exerting all effort to ensure learning continuity amid the pandemic. “The future will not wait and we don’t want our children to wait and be left behind,” she said.