The Department of Education (DepEd) formally opens School Year (SY) 2020-2021 today, October 5, after two postponements and a delay of four months from the usual June schedule, for the country’s 22.50 million students enrolled in public schools.
The opening of classes is annually marked with millions of students trooping to their schools but with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students will stay inside their homes in the first day of classes for SY 2020-2021.
Without face-to-face classes, students will learn their lessons through various alternative delivery modalities with the guidance of their parents and teachers.
Under distance learning, students will take their lessons using printed or digitized modules, online, or through television or radio-based instruction.
Depending on available resources and capabilities, DepEd said that schools are allowed to implement blended learning or a combination of two or more learning delivery modalities.
Latest data from DepEd showed that there are 22.74 million students enrolled in public and private schools which is 89.02 percent of last year’s turnout at 27.7 million.
Private schools have a current enrollment of 2.16 million and were allowed to start their classes early without face-to-face interaction and implementing a distance learning approach.
DepEd will welcome SY 2020-2021 through its National School Opening Day Program with a nationwide simultaneous flag-raising ceremony led by Education Secretary Leonor Briones.
Briones will give an inspirational message and formally declare the opening of the new school year amidst the challenges in education brought by the pandemic.
President Duterte will give a recorded message on the school opening.
DepEd Executive Committee members – as well as the service and bureau directors – will be in full force on the ground to monitor the school opening in their areas.
DepEd officials will be in the field and will give live updates on the implementation of distance learning during the first day of classes in the various school division offices or schools they will visit.
Since the school opening coincides with the World Teachers’ Day (WTD) celebration, Filipino teachers will also be honored during the program as part of the celebration of WTD and National Teachers’ Month (NTM).
‘Historic, victorious’ school opening
Briones said this school year’s opening is both “historic and victorious” – not just for DepEd but for the entire country.
“This is really unprecedented and we’re as excited as the children who have been wanting to go back to school,” Briones told Manila Bulletin in a phone interview days before the nationwide opening of classes.
“We overhauled the system in less than six months and we were able to surpass our initial target of enrollees – it’s all very encouraging and inspiring,” she said.
When schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Briones knew “that this school year will be full of disruptions.”
After wrapping up SY 2019-2020, DepEd started working on its Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BELCP) which was released in May. Briones, who turns 80 years old this month, admitted that there was a major adjustment on her part when it comes to meetings needed for policymaking.
“I am not familiar with these things [the use of technology], I don’t even know if I can survive it on my own but I am strongly pushing for it,” she said.
To ensure that that education services will not be hampered, DepEd strengthened its communications systems to ensure regular monitoring.
“We hold meetings, virtually, almost every day – it takes hours and hours of discussion involving our people from the regions,” she added.
Briones, who was briefly “homeschooled” during the war years, said that distance or blended learning approaches are not “entirely” new.
“We have been using this in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) – perhaps, what is new is the scale of how we are going to use them this school year,” she added. This school year, Briones said, is also a year of many “firsts.”
Aside from opening the school year in October, it is also the first time in the country’s history that all 24.72 million students enrolled in both public and private schools will not be learning within the four walls of their classrooms.
Instead, the homes will be their very own learning spaces – where they read printed modules, attend online classes, watch education videos on the television or listen to lessons converted into radio scripts.
Given the changes in the educational system, Briones said that the system will not be “perfect.”
In terms of preparation, regional offices were allowed to contextualize the BE-LCP to cater to the needs of their students and teachers.
All Schools division offices, she added, have also conducted dry-runs and simulations on blended learning to find out the areas that need improvement.
Asked if DepEd is ready for school opening, Briones said: “We are,” based on the results of the various readiness components updated regularly.
However, Briones noted that readiness is always relative. “This school year is a huge challenge, but you know, if you wait and wait until you’re absolutely, absolutely ready – by the time we feel we have certain problems already under control – there will be new challenges,” she added.
Due to the changes in the education landscape, DepEd is anticipating issues and problems in the implementation of blended/distance learning.
“But just like when moving to a new house, we don’t know what needs to be fixed unless we move in,” Briones said.
Despite the challenges ahead, Briones believes that being able to resume classes amid a pandemic is already a big feat.
“Oct. 5 is a celebration, a declaration of victory for the Filipino child because whatever challenges we are facing, education will continue, the learning of children will continue,” she added.