Yearender: CHED leads higher education amid COVID pandemic

The past year was a rollercoaster ride for the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) which took the front seat in crafting and enforcing guidelines for the country's higher education system in the time of a pandemic.


President Duterte placed the Philippines under a state of public health emergency in mid-March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after health authorities confirmed localized transmission of the virus.

The Department of Health (DoH) repeatedly urged the public to avoid crowded places and observe social distancing as among the precautionary strategies against the spread of COVID-19.

As part of this measure, the President decided to suspend classes in areas affected by the outbreak on the first week of the enforcement of an enhanced community quarantine to prevent possible exposure of students to the virus and to contain the spread of the disease.

However, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) were eventually urged to begin shifting into a flexible mode of learning -- including online-based -- amid the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country and to limit the disruption of education due to class suspensions brought by the outbreak.

Shifting to flexible learning

The implementation of distance learning for students was among the many advisories issued by CHED Chairman J. Prospero de Vera III for colleges and universities in connection with the prevention of the COVID-19 among HEIs.

In the Commission's second set of policy directives regarding COVID-19, De Vera said tertiary institutions should "deploy available distance learning, e-learning, and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of residential learning if they have resources to do so."

For colleges and universities, which were already teaching some courses either partially or entirely online, basic technology infrastructure was in place when instructors were told to go digital.

While for HEIs that are unfamiliar in holding online classes or having a hard time enforcing flexible learning, CHED came up with many strategies to help them strengthen their capabilities to implement distance learning.

In June, the CHED launched its "PHL CHED CONNECT," an online portal that will serve as a digital hub of course materials for HEIs shifting to a flexible mode of learning amid the global pandemic.

According to De Vera, PHL CHED CONNECT will include all the learning materials that faculties and students can use to develop new ways of teaching as in-person classes remain prohibited due to the pandemic.

The online hub, which is accessible through, contains learning resources in various fields such as agriculture, architecture, business, engineering, fine arts, humanities, Information Technology, maritime, mass communication, medical studies, and social sciences, among others.

The Commission also introduced the "Hi-Ed Bayanihan" program, a collaborative activity among various Philippine universities to help prepare colleges and universities to open the semester with distance learning through doing capacity building programs or training programs with faculty members.

Under the program, the CHED partnered with six universities in offering free online training for faculty members from other schools that are still adjusting to flexible learning.

Among the universities that collaborated with the Commission through this initiative were the Central Luzon State University, De La Salle-College of St.Benilde, Far Eastern University, Manuel S. Enverga University Foundation, Philippine Normal University, and Tarlac Agricultural University.

SUCs against COVID-19

During the first months into enhanced community quarantine, CHED boasted how different State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) stepped up to help in the country's fight against the pandemic.

According to De Vera, many SUCs were able to develop and donate their locally-produced products to frontline workers and the public.

The majority of the products that were developed and donated by the tertiary institutions are locally-produced personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, face shields, as well as disinfectants to counter its shortage in the market.

Among these are the faculty-researchers from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Samar State University, Cebu Technological University, Capiz State University, Don Mariano Marcos Memorial State University, Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology, and Eastern Visayas State University, among others.

Meanwhile, some schools also converted their facilities into quarantine centers or isolation areas for persons under monitoring and investigation (PUMs and PUIs).

In April, CHED formed a Public Health Experts Group (PHEG) to ensure that SUCs and concerned local government units (LGUs)  complied with the country's health standards in using school facilities as quarantine centers or community isolation units.

The SUCs which utilized their facilities to be a quarantine center include the Sorsogon State College-Sorsogon City and Bulan Campuses; Central Bicol State University of Agriculture; Camarines Norte State College Main and Labo Campuses; Isabela State University (ISU)-Cauayan and Roxas Campuses; Nueva Ecija University of Science and Technology; Bicol University; Marinduque State College; Sulu State College; Agusan del Sur State College of Agriculture and Technology; University of Northern Philippines; MSU-Naawan Campus; University of Southern Mindanao; Camiguin Polytechnic State University; Mindoro State College of Agriculture and Technology (MSCAT)-Bongabong and Calapan Campuses; Bohol Island State University; Northwest Samar State University-San Jorge Campus; Occidental Mindoro State College; Basilan State College; and Catanduanes State University.

The Commission explained that only selected areas of the universities were being used as isolation facilities, adding that these had to be thoroughly disinfected before opening for school operations.

Preparing for 'face-to-face' classes

While there is no final decision yet if face-to-face classes will be allowed, the CHED started working as early as now with universities to prepare for the limited in-campus learning particularly for courses where lessons are difficult to be taught remotely.

While this was not be required for all HEIs, De Vera said that those that want to resume was allowed to do so gradually.

Among the programs that were eyed to resume limited in-person classes were health-related programs such as medicine, nursing, and physical therapy which all have laboratory subjects.

The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has yet to issue an approval on limited face-to-face classes at the tertiary level, De Vera said.

While waiting for the final decision, De Vera said that the Commission vowed to consult concerned LGUs and inspect universities first to assure that they adhere to the health and safety guidelines set by CHED and the IATF.