A new school year starts in millions of homes, again

Published September 1, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

In two weeks, a new school year is set to open – in public schools, at least.

Just like last year, the backdrop of the new school year is the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic which, probably, will not go away anytime soon.

With the conduct of face-to-face classes still prohibited by President Duterte, the Philippines is bracing for yet another school year under the distance or blended learning set-up.

Students at the basic education level are expected to learn their lessons inside their homes through multiple learning delivery modalities.

CLASSROOM SIBLINGS AT HOME — share a laptop to access learning modules. (DepEd Photo)

Majority of the students are expected to learn using self-learning modules (SLMs) – both printed and offline.

Those who have access to technology can attend classes virtually through online distance learning classes.

Television and radio-based learning are also implemented in other areas.

Recognizing that not all resources are equal, the Department of Education (DepEd) pushes for the implementation of “Blended Learning.”

The question is: “Are parents, learners and teachers more ready for the learning set-up under the so-called new normal in education this time around?”

Distance/blended learning 2.0

“The last academic year has been a very useful learning experience for all of us,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in a press briefing during the national launch of the 2021 “Oplan Balik Eskwela” (OBE) on Aug. 24.

OBE is an annual national activity of DepEd that aims to address queries, complaints and other concerns that are commonly encountered by the public at the start of the school year.

The first day of classes for School Year (SY) 2021-2022 is scheduled to open in public schools on Sept. 13.

For private schools, they were allowed to open as early as June as long as requirements of DepEd on the conduct of distance or blended learning are observed and complied with.

“We are assuming that largely, blended learning without face-to-face, will be implemented because of the terrible and terrifying danger that is now being posed by emerging variants,” Briones said.

Blended Learning refers to “face-to-face with any or a mix of online distance learning, modular distance learning, and TV/Radio-based Instruction.”

It is designed to enable the schools to “limit face-to-face learning, ensure social distancing, and decrease the volume of people outside the home at any given time.”

However, at this time, the implementation of blended learning remains incomplete because face-to-face, which is considered as a very crucial component, is not yet included in the “blend.”

Enrollment figures so far

As of Aug. 27, enrollment figures released by DepEd showed that there are 10,254,650 enrollees for basic formal education and 52,425 learners under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program nationwide.

On Aug. 16, DepEd formally started holding the regular enrollment. Since then, there were 5,697,323 enrollees recorded by DepEd based on its “Quick Count.”

Of this number, 5,376,847 learners are currently enrolled in public schools; 313, 958 students in private schools; and 6,518 in State Universities and Colleges/Local Universities and Colleges (SUCs/LUCs) that offer basic education.

The enrollment data included 4,557,327 incoming Kindergarten, Grades 7 and 11 learners who participated in the early registration from March to May this year.

Using an enhanced enrollment process, the regular enrollment will be conducted until the first day of classes.

In SY 2020-2021, DepEd data showed that there were 26.2 million enrollees. This was lower before the pandemic where enrollment stood at 27.7 million.

School opening preparations
At a Senate basic education committee hearing on Aug. 25, DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan presented the school opening preparations of the agency.

Aside from giving updates on enrollment, Malaluan also discussed developments on curriculum and learning delivery, learning resources and platforms, and assessment of learning.

He also tackled the vaccination of teachers and personnel, the feeding program, the regional contextualization and enhancements of Basic Education -Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) and other continuing long term programs of DepEd.

Face-to-face classes remains a possibility

While the learning delivery modality for SY 2021-2022 is “largely by blended learning” as directed by President Duterte, DepEd said holding face-to-face classes remains a possibility.

“We also consider the possibility of face-to-face sessions if the President also will allow us to have our pilot studies,” Briones said.

As DepEd prepares mainly for blended learning without face-to-face because of the President’s declaration, Briones said that the agency is also looking forward to possible face-to-face “if pilot studies will be allowed in regions where the degree of COVID threats is not as severe as in some of our big regions.”

Malaluan, during the Senate Hearing, shared that as part of the preparations for possible pilot face-to-face classes, DepEd and the Department of Health (DOH) have agreed to issue a joint circular.

The framework and key elements of the joint circular, he explained, will be presented to and approved by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the “conduct of pilot face to-face classes subject to approval by the President.”

“If the President decides that they will allow us to have a pilot study, then we and our partner agencies have already prepared for it as well as the eventuality of face-to-face classes in anticipation of final victory or final control of this pandemic,” Briones said.