- For the first time in the country’s history, schools opened not in June but in October.
- The implementation of distance learning on a massive scale is a first for DepEd.
* DepEd data as of Nov. 11 showed that there are 25.05 million students enrolled in combined public and private schools, and inclusive of non-formal education (Alternative Learning System or ALS).
- The reduction in enrollment was mainly in private schools, where enrollment reached only 51.7% (2,226,292) of last year’s enrollment.
- Enrollment in public schools for formal education increased by 2.4% .
- Distance learning is considered a major component of learning delivery for this school year. This involved developing new learning resources, including printed and digital modules, online learning where available, and supplemented by television and radio-based instruction.
Disrupted by the pandemic and a string of natural disasters, the resumption of classes this school year proves that education is indeed a responsibility of not just one department or sector but of all.
While the Department of Education (DepEd) is mainly responsible for the formal and non-formal basic education in the country, the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic were just too much for one department to handle on its own.
Recognizing this, Education Secretary Leonor Briones underscored the need for “greater cooperation” among stakeholders early on in order to ensure that education will continue amid the ongoing health crisis.
Guided by President Rodrigo Duterte and the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), the DepEd formally opened the School Year (SY) 2020-2021 on Oct. 5. Since then, it has been relying on the recommendations and feedback of other sectors and departments to ensure the safe opening of classes for students and teachers.
In the implementation of distance learning in lieu of face-to-face classes, the DepEd has been consistent in engaging its partners to find better ways to deliver education to millions of Filipino students enrolled this school year.
As it continues to address existing and emerging concerns, the DepEd continues to call for everyone’s support to get through this school year which is greatly disrupted by the pandemic.
Historic, ‘victorious’ school opening
Albeit challenging, this school year will go down in history as one of the most memorable opening of classes.
For the first time in the country’s history, schools opened not in June but in October. School opening was postponed twice – from the original schedule on June 1, it was moved to Aug. 24 based on the results of DepEd’s online survey.
However, the President stepped in and moved the opening of all public schools on Oct. 5. “This was the date that the President has chosen himself,” Briones told the Manila Bulletin. “We gave him three choices – Aug. 24, Sept. 7, and Oct. 5 – and the latest date was the one he has chosen,” she added.
The implementation of distance learning on a massive scale is also a first for DepEd which has over 25 million students under its care.
To provide guidance to the department on how to deliver education in this time of crisis while ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all learners, teachers, and personnel of DepEd, Briones said that the agency has to develop its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP).
On the first day of classes, Briones virtually declared a “victorious” school opening amid the health situation in the country. “It’s a victory because the pandemic is still around and schools are opening. That is victory!” she said.
Despite criticisms coming from various quarters, Briones remains firm in her belief that being able to continue learning despite the challenges is a victory in itself, especially for the Filipino students whose education has been delayed for months already.
DepEd data as of Nov. 11 showed that there are 25.05 million students enrolled in combined public and private schools, and inclusive of non-formal education (Alternative Learning System or ALS).
“This represents 90.2% of our enrollment last year, which is higher than the adjusted enrollment target that we submitted to NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority],” said Briones in a report submitted to the President on Dec. 14.
Briones said the reduction in enrollment was experienced mainly in private schools, where enrollment reached only 51.7% (2,226,292) of last year’s enrollment. “In contrast, our enrollment in public schools for formal education even increased by 2.4% than last year’s enrollment,” she added.
Under the BE-LCP, distance learning is considered a major component of learning delivery for this school year. “We were able to proceed with this school year with great effort, transforming education delivery from one based in classrooms, to one that is through distance learning, in a span of a few months,” Briones said. “This involved developing new learning resources, including printed and digital modules, online learning where available, and supplemented by television and radio-based instruction,” she added.
To make this possible, Briones said the DepEd mobilized resources from its own appropriations in cooperation with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) which “spared us from further contributing to the budget needs” for the Bayanihan 2. “The local government units also gave considerable contributions to support learning continuity,” she said.
DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said that since DepEd announced its plan to open classes amid the pandemic, “Congress is providing strong support to learning continuity.” He added that DepEd was also able to mobilize a “large degree of partnerships at the central and field levels.”
While DepEd was able to roll out the school year with significant enrollment in public schools, Malaluan noted that there are challenges that need to be addressed in the implementation of distance learning.
“We are facing challenges in the development and quality assurance of learning resources for distance learning, which we continue to address,” Malaluan said. For instance, he noted that “home-based learning is not immune to disruptions from natural disasters” especially in the aftermath of typhoons “Rolly” and “Ulysses.”
Malaluan said there is also feedback on learning difficulties or “academic ease” coming from students and teachers as well as “communications challenges” that make the implementation of the distance learning set-up more complicated. All these, he assured, are being monitored and addressed by the agency.
Needs and priorities
With all the changes that are happening in the education sector, DepEd has its hands full at the moment.
As it endeavors to address the challenges in the basic education pre-COVID, DepEd has to constantly monitor and assess the implementation of distance learning amid the pandemic while taking into consideration the adjustments that need to be made post-COVID.
“We are on 24-hour monitoring so we can immediately verify and ask our regional directors to report on what is happening in the regions,” Briones said.
While it continues to address challenges in the implementation of distance learning, DepEd has also been preparing for the eventual resumption of face-to-face classes. Early this month, Briones recommended the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in COVID-low risk areas noting that in-person learning “remain a necessity for education.”
The pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in select schools for the period January 4 to 15, 2021 was initially approved by the President. However, on Dec. 26, Briones confirmed that President Duterte has “recalled his earlier approval” of the pilot implementation/dry run of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas originally scheduled next year in light of the emerging concern over the reported new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Pursuant to the President’s instruction, DepEd is suspending the said pilot run of face-to-face classes until further notice,” Briones said. She also assured that the DepEd will “fully cooperate” with the IATF in its response to the current situation.
Aside from addressing distance learning challenges and preparing for possible resumption of in-person classes, DepEd is also focusing its attention on quality education.
While there are disruptions and adjustments in the time of COVID-19, Malaluan said DepEd continues its thrust and efforts – from access to education towards “really ensuring that it is not access to any kind of education but to quality education.”
Malauan said that the bureaus within DepEd are in the process of preparations and ongoing initiatives to ensure that “we do not leave the matter of our thrust for education quality, even in this time of pandemic and learning continuity. ”
While DepEd is focusing on the day-to-day monitoring in the education sector because of the challenges of the pandemic, Malaluan said that “we have not let up and we have not lost sight of our strategic focus of really improving the quality of Philippine basic education.”
With all these considerations, DepEd maintains that the general framework of all its policy decisions will be that of shared responsibility. “The tendency at present is to blame one department for events and situations beyond its control—be it floods, wet modules, family issues of learners and teachers, and transport systems,” Briones said.
As it looks forward to a new year, DepEd underscored the need for various stakeholders – the communities, local government units, parents, and organizations – to “assume and share the corresponding responsibilities” and move “as one” – to deliver accessible and quality distance education for all.