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DepEd urged to create panel of experts to guide proposed pilot tests on face-to-face classes

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is urging the Department of Education (DepEd) to create a panel of experts to guide the proposed pilot tests of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.

According to Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts, and Culture, the panel of experts is expected to take a more specialized approach in looking at the pilot testing program and the resumption of face-to-face classes, considering the different situations of each school.

“Hindi naman ibig sabihin na dahil nag-cancel ng face-to-face classes, titigil na rin tayo sa pilot schools. This is a good way for our scientists to study what can be done to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 to our learners,” he said on Monday.

The DepEd earlier said they had initially identified 1,065 schools for the pilot test of face-to-face classes in December.

In a recent Senate panel hearing, however, DepEd Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said they would consider a proposal to reduce the number of schools participating in the pilot test for face-to-face classes to 500 or even lower.

Gatchalian supported the proposal to reduce the number of schools for pilot testing to gather local evidence on the safe resumption of face-to-face classes.

The Philippine Pediatric Society earlier told the Senate basic education panel that a global study of 191 countries showed that there was no association between school status and COVID-19 infection rates.

It also said that one year of school closure is equivalent to two years of lost learning.

The PPS believes that the effects of prolonged school closures on health and development may be addressed if the highest standards of safety measures are observed.

“The damage of school closures can be deeper and longer. During pre-COVID, our learners did not do well in international large-scale assessments and our national achievement scores were not doing great,” Gatchalian said.

“And now, because of the lack of access to face-to-face education, internet, and gadgets, the learners are left on their own,” he added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III earlier filed Senate Resolution 663 seeking the reopening of schools for in-person classes so that the country's educational system could catch up with our Asian neighbors.

Sotto insisted “there is no substitute to face-to-face classes, which is probably the best way to arrest the decline in (education) quality” in the country.

Back in December, President Rodrigo Duterte recalled his order allowing a dry run of face-to-face classes in January 2021 in select areas amid reports of a new COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom.

He nevertheless allowed limited face-to-face classes in schools offering courses on medicine and allied health sciences located in areas under general community quarantine and MGCQ. — RSJ, GMA News