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DepEd, DOH mull over in-person classes in low-risk areas

Education Secretary Leonor Briones

Education Secretary Leonor Briones joins the meeting with members of the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) presided by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte at the Malago Clubhouse in Malacañang on June 15, 2020. ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

The Department of Education (DepEd) is considering allowing limited in-person classes in parts of the country considered to be low risk for coronavirus infection, according to Secretary Leonor Briones.

Briones said on Thursday that the DepEd has been receiving a growing number of requests to hold in-person, or face-to-face, classes. That option was discussed in a meeting with President Duterte the day before.

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Health Secretary Francisco Duque III had “strongly” backed Briones, saying holding in-person classes could be applicable in areas that were low risk and had no access to internet, radio or television that could be used for distance learning.

The President directed the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management on Emerging Infectious Diseases to submit proposals for in-person classes of up to 10 students.

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“We think maybe we could allow limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas, but students won’t have to be there every day and there must be conditions,” Briones said at the Laging Handa briefing.

These conditions are meant to ensure protection against COVID-19, she said.

The schools must have enough facilities for physical distancing and regular handwashing, adequate supply of medicines for students who may exhibit COVID-19 symptoms and access to health facilities, she said.

‘It won’t be automatic’

A school won’t be allowed to hold in-person classes even if it is in a low-risk area if it could not follow the health standards, Briones said.

“It won’t be automatic. Just because we have loosened requirements, it doesn’t mean that all [schools] with low-risk assessment can open,” she said.

And even if students were allowed back in classrooms, Briones said they only needed to go only once or twice a week and their schedules would be adjusted according to their class size.

Physical education will be discouraged. Air conditioning units should not be set lower than 26 degrees Celsius. Classrooms without air conditioning and with proper ventilation are preferred, she added.

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She noted that many Southeast Asia countries followed the practice of holding limited and carefully regulated in-person classes to protect schoolchildren.

“Limiting 10 students to a classroom is aligned with physical distancing as part of the engineering controls. The one entrance, one exit is also good,” Duque said.

“Air conditioning should be at 26 degrees Celsius because the virus spreads easily when a room is closed and the air conditioning is on,” the health secretary said during the Wednesday meeting with the President.

Briones said the traditional classroom setting would help children build their relationship with fellow students, their teachers and school administrators. This will foster a good learning environment that will help them grow up to be “good human beings and not necessarily good robots all the time,” she said.

Classes are scheduled to resume on Aug. 24 with lessons to be held largely remotely—online via the internet or with take-home printed modules or on educational television and radio shows.

Many parents and students are concerned about how to continue their studies given their lack of gadgets like smartphones or laptops and limited access to the internet during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.

The pandemic caused a drop in the number of students this year and this had been expected by the DepEd, according to Education Undersecretary Revsee Escobedo.

This was because some parents lost their jobs or were concerned about putting their children’s health at risk if they go back to school, he said.

When enrollment closed on Wednesday, the DepEd reported that 20.5 million students in kindergarten up to senior high school had been registered, down from 27.2 million last year.

More than 306,000 students from private schools badly affected by the pandemic had transferred to public schools this year, according to Jesus Mateo, another education undersecretary.

Mateo said a government voucher program provides financial assistance to senior high school students studying in private schools.

Another called Education Service Contracting program allows the DepEd to contract slots in private schools for high school students, he said.

Albay went against trend

Albay province went against the trend of declining enrollment. Public high schools in the province have not only met their target number of enrollees but even exceeded last year’s figures on the last day of enrollment on Wednesday.

Norma Samantela, Albay DepEd division superintendent, said the increase in enrollment in public schools “is an indication that they (parents and students) value education.”

DepEd Bicol said there were 1.52 million enrollees in the entire region as of Wednesday morning.

Since in-person classes are not yet allowed in schools and learning process must continue, blended learning will be used.

One distance learning initiative was started by Buenavista Elementary School in Sorsogon City, Sorsogon province, so that students could continue their studies with their parents’ help even during times of emergencies, such as the present pandemic.

Rowan Celestra, the school principal, said their E-nay.com, or Education for Nanay in the Community, would involve mostly mothers whose capacity to teach their children the most essential learning competencies (MELC) would be strengthened.

The mothers’ training includes understanding what teaching is, a MELC walk-through, strategies for teaching and learning, a workshop on instructional materials, and a dry run of homebased learning using worksheets, Celestra said.

Some of them, now called mother volunteers, found the program helpful and beneficial.

Marilyn Jañolan, a mother of two, said the training motivated her to study again even at home and it strengthened her confidence to supervise her children’s studies.

Jañolan said she volunteered to teach other students in her community as well.

There will be a mother volunteer leader per zone within a barangay in the province. There will also be an E-nay center per zone where the parents can get their learning modules. Fathers are also expected to assist the mothers.

For more news about the novel coronavirus click here.
What you need to know about Coronavirus.
For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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TAGS: Briones, COVID-19, DepEd, Education, pandemic, School
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