THE government is considering implementing face-to-face classes on limited hours if President Rodrigo Duterte approves a dry run in select schools, a Palace official said.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said face-to-face classes could be held a few hours a week instead of the full week schedule of students.
In an interview over state-run PTV-4 on Friday, Roque said in Filipino that classes could be held “one hour per week or three hours per week as long as there is a combination of the module, computer-aided and face-to-face learning if the students need to interact with their teachers.”
President Duterte, in December 2019, approved the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in January of the following year for public schools in areas identified as low risk for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).
But Duterte recalled the order after more than a week, citing the threat of the faster-spreading coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom.
The resumption of the pilot face-to-face classes in areas with low coronavirus risk is one of the recommendations of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in line with its push for a safe reopening of the economy.
The NEDA recommendations, including placing the country under the most relaxed community quarantine level, will be discussed by the President and the Cabinet in a meeting on Monday.
Roque echoed Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ statement that the Philippines was the only country in the region that had yet to resume face-to-face learning during the pandemic.
Roque said, however, that now that there is a better understanding of the new variant, for which no community transmission has yet been recorded, discussions on face-to-face classes will be revived.
Briones on Thursday said her department was preparing in case the President would give the green light to pilot test the resumption of face-to-face or in-person classes.
She cited a survey conducted by the Department of Education, which showed that “more than 50 percent” of students favored attending in-person classes.
A “significant portion” of teachers also want to hold limited in-person classes while parents remain undecided on the matter, she added.
In the past weeks, various groups have called on the government to safely reopen schools and conduct in-person classes, saying that the current distance learning setup is no longer feasible due to several issues faced by students, parents and teachers.
Basic education classes resumed in October under blended learning which involves a mix of internet-based sessions, radio and TV broadcasts, and printed self-learning modules. Classes in other levels are also mostly held online.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate basic education, culture and arts committee, said by allowing face-to-face classes, learners can receive better guidance from their teachers.
Social interaction in schools would benefit the mental well-being of learners, many of whom have remained confined to their homes since the lockdowns.
Aside from hastening their learning recovery, students must continue to have access to health safety nets and other forms of support like a school-based feeding program, healthcare such as immunization and deworming and protection against violence and abuse, Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian emphasized that the reopening of schools should start in low-risk areas. As of February 9, about 433 municipalities have zero active cases of the coronavirus, based on the map of the University of the Philippines’ Covid-19 tracker.
WITH JAVIER JOE ISMAEL