Let’s face (-to-face) the facts: Are we ready for physical classes again?

Published October 14, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin


There is an education principle that suggests how learning can be maximized when more of the body’s senses are involved. This is the reason why, according to this concept, students tend to remember and learn more if they take notes, actively listening and attentively watching the teacher — some experts would even argue that handwritten ones are still more effective than their digitally-penned counterparts.

No other situation in recent history has tested this theory than this pandemic, where a generation of learners have been forced to go to school without going to school. Let’s face it, it really is different to have to attend classes without being in a classroom. While online learning has allowed for a semblance of normalcy, with students being able to see at least the faces of their teachers and fellow learners, it isn’t at all the same as being physically present in school, being in the same environment as your classmates.

This is why the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) have all been too keen on setting up limited face-to-face classes in certain areas, for a select number of schools, and in the case of colleges, for specific programs and degree courses.

For DepEd, a pilot run of limited face-to-face classes has been set for Nov. 15, 2021 for schools in areas identified to be under low risk of COVID-19. The Department says that it is not pushing this program with just blind faith. They have worked closely with child health experts as well as those from the Department of Health, with the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) and other concerned groups.

For its part, CHED promises the same level of preparedness, with 73 percent of higher education personnel from all over the country supposedly already vaccinated against COVID. The Commission eyes to run limited face-to-face classes in areas identified to have low COVID cases and higher rates of vaccination.

But what about vaccines for students? While child inoculation against COVID-19 remains a subject for more extensive studies, the World Health Organization (WHO) has already allowed for the vaccination of older children—teenagers who are the students under the care of CHED. Just yesterday, Oct. 13, CHED launched a vaccination program for tertiary level students in two colleges in Pampanga.

Some have criticized Philippine education as too slow in implementing a program to allow face-to-face classes to resume. This, however, is not really a problem. Just look at the examples of countries that hurriedly opened schools back to welcome students. Most of them, like those in China and in South Korea, had to deal with a renewed outbreak of COVID cases that supposedly started in schools. If anything, DepEd and CHED have had ample time to really make sure that face-to-face classes won’t face unnecessary disruption. Parents are also given the option to keep their children in a blended learning setup for the coming school year.

There are already limited face-to-face classes in the Philippines involving some 21,000 students from nearly 200 colleges and universities all over the country. Good news is, according to the DOH, the rate of infection is very low — less than one percent among students and not higher than 1.41 percent among teachers.

A pilot run that will cover more schools and more students, whatever its outcome would be, would give education stakeholders a better grasp of just how ready we are for learning post-COVID.