A federation of teachers on Tuesday, Dec. 15, challenged the Duterte administration as well as the Department of Education (DepEd) to ensure that various issues are first addressed before allowing the conduct or dry run of face-to-face classes.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines said that the President should “address first” various problems in schools such as the lack of water supply, functional clinics and school nurses, and large class sizes before allowing face-to-face classes—even if this will be on a limited or “voluntary” basis.
As announced by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque on Monday, President Duterte has approved the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in COVID low-risk areas starting January 2021, as proposed by the DepEd.
However, ACT urges caution, noting that the prerequisites to the resumption of face-to-face classes even in COVID low-risk areas should first be in place.
“We have had enough of government orders that were not partnered with sufficient funding and ample preparations, as what had happened with distance learning where teachers and learners were ultimately left to fund for the needs and fend for themselves,” said ACT Secretary-General Raymond Basilio.
“This should not happen again with [the resumption of] face-to-face classes, as it poses [a] clear and present danger to the health and lives of the stakeholders, as such, Duterte and Education officials should stop issuing orders from their high tower and start doing their job,” Basilio said.
Basilio explained that a low COVID-19 infection rate “does not guarantee” the safe return to schools, especially since these probable areas are poor rural localities where school facilities are “least ideal and personnel are most wanting.”
ACT also challenged the national government to take on bigger funding responsibilities for the needs of the schools in these areas as they have very limited special education funds, which are taken from the localities’ real estate taxes.
“We ask Pres. Duterte: What do you commit to contribute to ensure school safety in these areas when the Congress-approved 2021 budget effected big budget cuts on school infrastructure and facilities?” Basilio said.
ACT said that the Congress bicameral conference approved last week the 2021 budget, which slashed basic education facilities funding by P13 billion. “Our teachers and learners cannot be saved by face masks, alcohol and physical distancing alone,” Basilio said. “We are dealing with active children here,the best protection for them is a safe, preventive and pandemic-responsive learning environment.”
In particular, ACT is pressing for the installation of water facilities in 3,628 schools nationwide, which DepEd reported of having “no water supply” in its 2021 budget proposal. Basilio also raised the alarm that only about 600 school nurse items were left with DepEd after the agency’s rationalization program based on its 2014 report.
ACT believes that the government needs to employ a minimum of 4,500 nurses to achieve at least DepEd’s pre-pandemic ideal ratio of 1 school nurse for every 5,000 students.
“There should also be no compromise in the implementation of the [15-students-per-class maximum] to allow for the observance of physical distancing,” Basilio said. “Needless to say, the government has to fill in the shortages on teachers and classrooms to make this possible,” he noted, adding that the government should not pass on the burden of ensuring school safety to teachers.