Duterte OKs pilot testing of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas for COVID-19

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 20) — President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes in areas with low COVID-19 cases, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said.

In a Palace briefing on Monday, Roque said the pilot testing will be done in areas that will be determined by the Department of Health.

Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones said a maximum of 100 public schools which have passed its “readiness assessment” will participate in the pilot test. She added that 20 private schools are also expected to join subject to validation by the DepEd and DOH.

The pilot test will be done in the following school levels, with these number of students per class:

— Kindergarten: 12 students

— Grades 1 to 3: 16 students

— Technical-vocational program in Senior High School: 20 students

Classes will be half-day and will be conducted every other week. In Kindergarten to Grade 3, classes should be up to three hours maximum and in senior high school, classes should only be up to four hours, DepEd said.

The DepEd said that the pilot test will run for two months. But when asked when will it start, Briones said that they are eyeing to begin as soon as possible.

"Right now, hindi pa kami makabigay ng exact date, kasi ngayon lang namin nalaman na may desisyon na ang Presidente. Pero i-implement namin agad,” she said.

[Translation: Right now, we cannot give an exact date yet, because we have just heard the decision of the President. But we will implement this as soon as possible.]

The DepEd pointed out that participating schools must have the support of their respective local government unit and secure consent from the parents of students. No student shall be forced to attend the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes, it added.

“Kung safe ang pilot, if it is effective, we will gradually increase...Kapag may pagbabago sa risk assessment, talagang titigilin natin,” said Briones.

[Translation: If the pilot test will be safe and effective, we will gradually increase...If there will changes noted in the risk assessment, we have to stop the implementation.]

As of Sept. 20, data showed that 28.2 million students in all levels have enrolled this school year. This is 107.6% higher than the 26.2 enrollees last year.

The DepEd earlier said that teachers who will participate in the pilot test will be vaccinated against COVID-19. But whether they are vaccinated or not, Briones said that teachers below 65 years old can participate as long as they don't have comorbidities.

Duterte approved in December last year the pilot implementation of in-person classes in January. He recalled the decision last February, as the national vaccination program has yet to be launched.

Classes in the basic education level opened on Sept. 13 under an online learning setup.

The National Economic and Development Authority earlier noted that prolonged school shutdown could lead to trillions of pesos in lost productivity in the coming decades.

The United Nations Children’s Fund Philippines has also called for a phased reopening of schools, saying prolonged closures result in complex problems including heightened risk of drop out, child labor and child marriage. It said as of Sept. 14, the Philippines and Venezuela are the only remaining countries that have not reopened schools. The Philippines had one of the longest school breaks in the world, without any type of learning from March 2020 to Oct. 2020, it added.