Recently, face-to-face classes in 100 public schools across the country were held for the first time in almost two years. This pilot run classes is very much welcome considering that the education of a significant number of students has been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) worked hard to introduce distance and blended learning tools so that students would continue learning even while inside their homes, for many families, coping with the various challenges under the new setup has been very difficult and stressful. Among the most common issues faced by families is the lack of a reliable internet connection. Parents have also become the de facto teachers or tutors of their children at home. So apart from dealing with their challenges at work, they also have to struggle with the additional burden of educating their children.
The opening of limited in-person classes in some public and private schools this month gives hope that a return to some degree of normalcy is forthcoming. We can attribute this development to the increase in the number of Filipinos getting vaccinated daily and their adherence to the health protocols imposed by our authorities.
One question that was in our minds when we were going over the proposed 2022 budget was — how prepared are our schools for the holding of in-person classes? When we went over the 2022 National Expenditure Program (NEP) or the version of the national budget submitted by the executive branch, and the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the version approved by the House of Representatives, we saw that there was no item for the preparations and implementation of face-to-face classes in the DepEd, CHED and the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). This actually comes as no surprise considering that when the different government agencies and offices submitted their respective budget proposals, there was still no plan to hold face-to-face classes.
In response to this new development and to aid our schools in their preparations, the Senate Committee on Finance which we chair proposed additions in the 2022 budget of the DepEd. We anticipate that more schools will be included in the coming months so we deemed it necessary to provide appropriate budgetary support to the DepEd for this purpose.For our 116 SUCs, including the University of the Philippines System, the committee also proposed additions for preparations for the holding of face-to-face classes.
For both basic education and higher education budgets, we provided for greater flexibility in the use of the funds. The DepEd and SUCs may use the funds to modify the layout and ventilation of the classrooms, laboratories and other parts of the schools; for the COVID testing of the faculty and staff; for the purchase of supplies and other equipment for the implementation of safety protocols and standards; and for assistance to the students, teachers and staff for their transportation requirements. We give credit to our vice chairpersons of the Finance Committee — Senators Pia Cayetano, Sherwin Gatchalian and Joel Villanueva for coming up with these interventions when they took up the proposed budgets of the education sector during the committee hearings.
The Committee on Finance also included a special provision to the proposed budget such that there would be stronger quality control when it comes to the production of self-learning modules, learning activity sheets, manuals, and worksheets, adding special provisions We also wanted to make sure that no one is left behind when it comes to education. For this reason, the committee proposed an additional budget for the implementation of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) and the Special Education Program of the DepEd. The ALS allows Filipinos who do not have or cannot access formal education in the traditional school setting the opportunity to complete their studies. The SPED, on the other hand, caters to our learners with disabilities. The committee also proposed an increase in the budget for the Last Mile Schools Program to pave the way for the construction of more school buildings; tech-voc laboratories; water and sanitation facilities; and even the installation of solar panels in far-flung areas.
With the gradual resumption of face-to-face classes, the struggles of both the children and their parents in coping with home-based education will soon be eased. Our hardworking teachers, who already have sacrificed enough to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve even during the pandemic, will also have some relief once they are able to step inside their classrooms once again. It’s only appropriate then that the precautions are taken to protect our children from possible infection, as we gradually return to face-to-face classes.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 17 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara