Over the past couple of weeks, as the whole world welcomed a new year with hearts full of hope and, in the case of the education sector, minds easing into a more open learning setup with limited face-to-face classes already in place in certain areas, it seemed that 2022 was going to be a year of recovery. All of this, however, was disturbed by the sudden surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.
At the beginning of 2022, the number of daily infections in the Philippines saw a rate of increase that hasn’t been experienced since the Delta variant downswing in the second half of 2021. While it was not clear whether the surge was due to the newer Omicron variant, the rise in cases was undeniable, to the point that the country saw its highest number of COVID infections in the first week of January.
Naturally, parents and schools were among those who were alarmed, given that some learners from lower grade levels have already been physically going to school. Groups of concerned teachers as well as some parents have called the Department of Education (DepEd) for an academic freeze or break to allow for learners and educators in the public school system to recover from the new COVID-19 outbreak. Some private schools already implemented this kind of break, as the number of students experiencing flu-like symptoms increased. This was true even for those that remained in an online or modular learning setup.
Educators, according to one socio-civic group composed of education sector workers, were also not immune to the recent COVID-19 surge. A survey conducted by the said group revealed that a significant number of teachers from various parts of the country have had flu-like symptoms by the second week of January. Other groups also clamored for an academic ease, with some even extending the call for a relaxation of requirements to prioritize the health of students at this time to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
DepEd, in a recent memorandum, has reiterated existing policies with regard to imposing academic breaks. While the department recognizes the seriousness of the current situation, it also leaves it to the discretion of local DepEd officials to decide whether an academic break should be imposed. Such a break would depend also on the advice of local health officials.
It is undeniable that DepEd has now become more and more competent in its implementation of modular learning methods. As such, it is more prepared now to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases. What is perhaps more regrettable in the current situation is the disruption of the implementation of face-to-face classes that DepEd, together with the Department of Health and various other relevant agencies, as well as parents and learners, have been preparing for since 2021. It was, after all, the resumption of actual, physical classroom setups that gave the education sector a semblance of normalcy that both parents and learners, as well as teachers themselves needed after nearly two years of conducting classes behind a screen.