AT least five senators – four from the majority and another from the minority – are in favor of conducting pilot testing of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas even as President Duterte thumbed down the resumption of face-to-face classes until vaccines had arrived and been administered.
Sen. Nancy Binay said conducting pilot testing in low-risk areas such as Batanes and Siquijor will enable education officials if it is doable. Her view was backed by Senators Pia Cayetano, Francis Pangilinan, Sherwin Gatchalian, and Imee Marcos.
“Maybe we can pilot test in these two provinces so we can determine if it’s possible, it is doable,” Binay said during the Senate committee on basic education hearing seeking updates on the impact of COVID-19 to the education sector.
According to the UP endCOV tracker 2021 data as of February 20 presented by the Department of Education during the hearing, there are 433 out of the 1,488 municipalities nationwide without cases of COVID-19.
The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao has the most number of “zero” COVID-19 cases at 74 of its 116 municipalities, followed by the Eastern Visayas region with 46 of its 136 municipalities, and the Mimaropa region with 45 of its 71 municipalities.
Last Monday, Duterte turned down a recommendation from the DepEd to start holding face-to-face classes in 1,065 schools in low-risk areas.
Cayetano said face-to-face classes can be allowed to resume in remote or isolated places like Barangay Lusod in Itogon, Benguet province which she visited with her staff last Feb. 22 to distribute learning materials to children.
She said small communities like Barangay Lusod can hold classes in an open area if health protocols do not allow them to use enclosed areas for their classes.
Pangilinan suggested that DepEd lower its targeted pilot areas to “hundreds” to convince the Inter Agency Task Force on the Management of Infectious Diseases to allow face-to-face classes.
He said instead of pilot testing in 1,065 schools, the DepEd can bring it down to 300 or maybe even 100 schools so the government can assess the situation. He said this will help fine tune the reopening of actual classes.
“Maybe you have an alternative just to be able to get a system going and be able to fine-tune. What’s important is that we start with the pilot testing so we can see the gaps so that when you expand it even to 1,065 you already have the experience of 500 or 300 to work around and to work on the necessary adjustments,” Pangilinan said.
“We need the experience now, we need the lessons drawn now because we don’t have the luxury of time,” he added.
Gatchalian, committee chair, said the pilot testing of face-to-face classes can be done as a preparation to the actual resumption of classes.
“This is a good way for our society to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID,” Gatchalian said.
Marcos said pilot testing of face-to-face classes must be allowed so students can properly learn, noting that online classes and answering learning modules at home is not the way to go.
Meanwhile, an estimated 4.4 million school age Filipinos, or those between 5 years old and 20 years old, are not enrolled in the current school year, according to a survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS).
The survey, held from November 21 to 25, 2020 or a month after the public school system opened in the country, showed that 87 percent or an estimated 29.8 million of school-age Filipinos are enrolled in school while 13 percent or an estimated 4.4 million are not enrolled.
Of those who are enrolled, 7 percent or some 2.1 million are in pre-primary school, 45 percent or 13.3 million are in elementary, 29 percent or 8.6 million are in junior high school, 13 percent or 3.9 million are in senior high school, and 6 percent or 1.9 million are in college.
Viayas had the highest number of enrolled students with 88 percent, followed by Luzon with 87 percent and Mindanao and Metro Manila with 86 percent each. – With Jocelyn Montemayor