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In-person classes in low-risk areas backed

Sundy Locus

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Senators on Sunday supported the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas before it can be resumed nationwide.

Maintaining that the risk of Covid-19 still lingers, Senator Sonny Angara said that while he wants to see students back in schools, testing the rollout of in-person classes in one to two provinces with minimal to zero cases might be better to ensure its safety.

The areas of implementation, he added, should have strong health systems that can handle the rise in coronavirus cases in the event of a super spreader.

“We want to reinstate face-to-face classes but President Rodrigo Duterte himself announced earlier that it will not happen unless there are Covid-19 vaccines,” Angara said.

“Before we start the nationwide rollout of face-to-face (classes), maybe we can choose one to two provinces for pilot testing.

The areas should have a low number of cases and should have health systems or hospitals that can handle super spreader events,” he added.

Angara noted that there are reported cases in other countries of face-to-face classes serving as super spreader events.

Children would be together in an indoor setting and would unavoidably have close interactions with each other so a handful of infected students could easily spread the virus to other children and they in turn could infect other persons in their homes and their communities.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, during the public hearing of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture on Wednesday, expressed a similar stance after he proposed the opening of 100 schools in the country.

This deviates from the Department of Education (DepEd)’s proposal to start the pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes in 1,065 schools, citing an internal DepEd survey that the clamor is from the learners themselves.

According to DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan, 1,065 schools, or five schools per division, have been chosen for the pilot reopening.

Possible start of the dry run is in August 2021 — 17 months after schools were closed in March 2020.

“Not a thousand but 300, 200 or 100 schools should be opened so we can study the implementation and its possible effects.

If the result turned out to be positive, then we’ll have a basis for the further reopening since we already have a proof of concept,” Pangilinan said.

“We need the experience now, we need the lessons drawn now because we don’t have the luxury of time,” he added.

The Philippines remains the only Southeast Asian nation that has yet to reopen schools since the global pandemic outbreak.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, deferred from the proposed testing saying that face-to-face classes should be rolled out in areas without Covid-19 cases.

He cited the difficulties public school students experience under the distance learning setup including the lack of access in Internet connection and gadgets.

“I don’t follow the suggestions of my colleagues in the Senate that we should have pilot testing.

It might be too late. Surely it will come out great since the areas for the pilot implementation are those without Covid cases.

Why is it like that? All Covid-free areas should be covered,” he added.

Sotto filed a resolution earlier stressing the need for the country’s education system to catch up with neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.

“There is no substitute to face-to-face classes, which is probably the best way to arrest the decline in (education) quality and to improve learner outcomes,” Resolution 663 reads.

“There are deep concerns that while countries whose students had performed well in the past international assessments are already back on track, the Philippines is still lagging behind using the blended learning method, which to many is not an effective means due to lack of access to internet and gadgets by majority of pupils and students,” he added.

Under the said measure, Sotto also proposed to have the local school boards composed of the Provincial School Board, the City School Board, and the Municipal School Board to have the authority to “assess and recommend whether to reopen or lockdown schools and allow physical classes to resume in their respective jurisdictions.”

President Duterte previously rejected the recommendation of DepEd to reopen schools following his decision to go through the resumption of in-person classes once the government’s national vaccination program starts.

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