Pandemic education, Year 2

Published October 4, 2021, 8:53 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

(Photo from Unsplash)

Millions of Filipino learners face a second year of distance learning due to the ongoing public health situation in the country.

While President Duterte has finally approved the pilot implementation of limited face-to-face classes recently, distance learning is still largely in place as implemented by the Department of Education (DepEd) for School Year (SY) 2021-2022.

“We have been preparing for the current school year and the next school year from the time of the lockdown because we anticipated that we would have to prepare,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said before SY 2021-2022 opened on Sept. 13. “Our call, which has not changed at all, is that lockdown or no lockdown, pandemic or or no pandemic, disaster or no disaster, education must continue.”

In 2020, Briones said that DepEd had spent about five months creating its Basic Education Learning Continuity Program (BE-LCP), which is once again implemented this school year.

“The basic principle is education must continue,” she explained.

Spike in public school enrollment

For DepEd, the opening of a new school year is a “success” because more parents have decided to enroll their children despite the pandemic.

Based on the Learner Information System (LIS) Quick Count report as of Sept. 18, there are 28,219,623 learners registered for SY 2021-2022. The latest enrollment data, according to DepEd, is 107.6 percent compared to last year’s enrollment, which was recorded at 26,227,022.

Based on the report, 15 out of 17 regions have achieved more than 100 percent enrollment rate, indicating that “learners who did not enrol last year are returning to the basic education system.”

DepEd says that currently, Region II has the highest enrollment turnout rate, as their 1,117,725 running total of enrollees for SY 2021-2022 reflect 122.2 percent of last year’s number. Region XII and CARAGA posted 118.5 percent and 118.3 percent turnout rates, respectively.

“Is it not only to match last year’s [enrollment], it is also to recover those who opted out of enroling,” explains Undersecretary and chief of staff Nepomuceno Malaluan, who adds that updated student profiles will be the basis for the official enrollment for SY 2021-2022, which will be released by end-October.

In the pre-pandemic years of the current administration or from 2016 to 2019, DepEd has also recorded an 8.45 percent increase in enrollment.

Private education in a ‘critical state’

While the public schools saw a spike in enrollment, the private education sector continues to bear the brunt of the pandemic with a low number of enrollees.

The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) and Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities (PACU) have expressed concern that the private education sector is now in a “critical state” as enrollment has plunged as a result of the pandemic.

COCOPEA managing director Joseph Noel Estrada says that enrollment in private schools remains low at 60 percent of last year’s enrollment. “But last year’s enrollment is only half of the enrollment in the pre-pandemic school year so it’s really low,” he says.

He adds that there are schools that are “really in a critical state,” especially those that cannot continue due to “very low turnout” of enrollees. “Their school personnel, their teachers are also affected because the resources of the school depend on the enrollment,” he explains.

Based on the results of the survey conducted by COCOPEA, more than 80 percent of respondents reported that the “economic difficulties of students and their families, and the resulting migration to public schools, state and local universities and colleges are the main drivers of the enrollment decline.” The said survey was participated in by over 250 member schools.

To cope with the steep decline in enrollment, 71 percent of respondent schools are considering the implementation of a “no work, no pay” scheme, 64 percent are considering the “retrenchment of employees to remain afloat,” and “55 percent in the survey are considering the closure of their schools.” These closures would be in addition to the “865 private schools that suspended their operations last school year” as reported by DepEd.

Given this, COCOPEA requested for government and economic intervention such as subsidies that could be given straight to students and teachers in private schools. “This will help in the continuity of delivery of education,” Estrada says.

The country’s largest associations of private schools have also expressed hope that the bill granting preferential tax rates to educational institutions amid the pandemic will be passed into law as soon as possible.

Education is a ‘shared responsibility’

While DepEd is mainly responsible in the areas related to formal and non-formal basic education, Briones says that education remains a responsibility that should be shared by all.

“Of course, all the blame is laid at the door of the department, but it is our joint responsibility. It is a shared responsibility, a shared commitment, which the Constitution imposes on all of us,” Briones says.

As it has opened a new school year, Briones says that DepEd has “learned its lessons” from last year, especially in terms of the gaps that need to be addressed. “A major challenge where we also would benefit from advice and suggestions, is the assessment of the performance of the children,” Briones says.

Unlike in the face-to-face system where there are already established protocols and procedures, Briones says that “this time since we are largely depending on blended education, we are developing other ways of assessing the performance of a student.”

Briones says that DepEd continues to develop “enhanced ways” by which it addresses other challenges reported by schools, students, parents, and teachers in SY 2021-2022.

“We expect a perfect solution, a perfect answer to a very imperfect situation but we have a very unpredictable environment where everything can change practically overnight but we still continue to work within this kind of situation and adjust,” Briones adds.