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Unlike Philippines, other ASEAN members retained face-to-face classes amid pandemic—COCOPEA exec

Other countries in the Southeast Asian region have started to allow face-to-face classes despite the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, unlike the Philippines which opted to defer physical interactions among learners and teachers, an official of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines (COCOPEA) said on Thursday.

"Almost all ASEAN countries have opened or are planning to reopen face-to-face learning, except for us in the Philippines. We have not scheduled a face-to-face reopening of our schools," COCOPEA Managing Director Joseph Noel Estrada said at a Senate hearing.

"Some countries have slowly phased the school opening to allow full face-to-face learning," he added.

In his presentation, Estrada showed that Vietnam have been maintaining full face-to-face classes since May; Singapore is using blended modes but is ramping up efforts to hold full physical classes as community transmission of the virus decreases; and Thailand is having face-to-face classes but with a limited number of students.

Malaysia, on the other hand, will only be holding physical attendance when there are exams. Indonesia allowed only 6% of its students to hold face-to-face classes in safe zones, he added.

Sought for clarification if he meant that the Philippines is the only ASEAN country without scheduled face-to-face classes to date, Estrada explained that his presentation covered only the "main ASEAN countries" that the Philippines is typically being compared to.

"For Cambodia, they are delaying opening until year end," he said in a message to GMA News Online.

He added—without elaboration on modes of delivery—that Laos and Brunei already opened classes too, and that classes in Myanmar are scheduled to start in July.

Estrada stressed that the learning loss from the closure of schools due to COVID-19 is already significant and that effective instruction is crucial once classes resume.

He said that schools in the country will have to come up with alternative classroom settings to observe physical distancing should face-to-face classes be allowed once more. A "shift system" could also enable all students to come to school, he added.

He, nevertheless, said that the COCOPEA will be sticking to President Rodrigo Duterte's directive of not holding physical classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.

"Of course, that is zero risk when the vaccine is found but we just would like to present the scenario [of] where we are and how the risk of transmission looks like should we decide or plan for the reopening of face-to-face instruction down the line because we don't know until when we can sustain a remote or online delivery of education," he added.

The Department of Education, on the other hand, said that it has been regularly updating Duterte regarding the various situations of learners across the Philippines.

"If we look at the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan's various learning modalities, ang unang-una po sa listahan na iyon ay 'yung face to face... modified in-school and out-school approach, ginagawa na po natin iyon before COVID-19 at 'yun din po ang pinaplanong dapat gawin," Education Undersecretary Tony Umali said, noting that the plan was crafted before the President signified apprehensions on physical classes.

"Sa ngayon, klarong-klaro po, kung ano ang pahayag ng ating Pangulo ay atin pong ipapatupad," he said.

As of June 25, a total of 14.4 million K-12 students have enrolled in public and private schools nationwide through online, remote, and drop box systems.

The dry run of blended delivery of lessons—through printed self-learning modules, internet, TV, and radio—will be held in the first half of August, according to Umali. -MDM, GMA News