Ready or not, face-to-face classes start for public schools

Barring any major disruptions such as the arrival of a typhoon, full face-to-face classes in public schools will be implemented today, Nov. 2, 2022. When asked recently by the media regarding this development, Vice President and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Z. Duterte said that the department is ready, and was not remiss in preparations and reminders via memorandums.

“We already issued the department order (No. 34) last August for the school year 2022-2023, and then we issued an amendatory department order (on Oct. 17) to supplement our initial department order with regard to the mandatory in-person classes beginning Nov. 2,” she said.

The amendatory department order requires “all public schools across the country to implement five days of in-person classes” with only two exceptions: first, public schools expressly granted exemptions by the regional director concerned; and second, public schools with canceled classes because of disasters and calamities. Other than that, it’s all systems go for full face-to-face classes after two years of online or blended learning.

The DepEd, in a statement, said that it “maintains confidence in the benefits of holding in-person classes to promote academic development and the overall mental health and wellbeing of learners.” It also added that several published studies “point to the undisputable fact that in-person classes remain the best option for basic education.”

It should be noted, however, that the amendatory department order is for public schools as “private schools are still allowed to offer blended learning modality and full distance learning options to students.”

“DepEd is cognizant of the current situation of the private sector due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic — the amount of investment in online learning technologies, the development and institutionalization of best practices on blended learning, and the unfortunate closure of small private schools because of losses.”

The department also noted that it will now leave the discussion on the learning modality to be implemented by private education institutions to “schools, parents or guardians, and the learners.” But it still hopes that “parents or guardians of private school learners would not miss the abundance of scientific studies available on the advantages of in-person classes over online learning.”

It is inevitable that there are critics as this is a major educational transition. Critics pointed out a variety of reasons, such as the unreadiness of the physical classrooms (e.g. lack of ventilation or spaces for physical distancing), presence of new Covid variants, to the added burden imposed on families who have to spend more for transportation expenses. These were all countered with the assurance of the department that health protocols will be strictly implemented to ensure the safety of both learners and educators in and out of the classrooms.

UNICEF, in August, has said that the Philippines is facing a “learning crisis” — “Prolonged school closures, poor health risk mitigation, and household income shocks had the biggest impact on learning poverty, resulting in many children failing to read and understand a simple text by age 10.” The school opening is one step to “tackle learning poverty and recover pandemic-related learning losses.”

Ready or not, it seems that it is now the right time to bring back basic learners inside the four corners of a classroom. Delaying this further could have irreparable consequences, one that will be felt for generations to come.