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Palace: No face-to-face classes until COVID-19 vaccine is available

Physical classes in schools will not resume until a vaccine is discovered and the communities have adjusted to the “new normal” in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malacañang said Tuesday. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque issued the clarification after President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that he would not allow the opening of classes until a vaccine against COVID-19 is made locally available.

“Ibig sabihin po niyan, habang wala pang bakuna at habang wala pa tayo sa new normal, ‘yung wala na pong community quarantine, hindi pa rin po tayo magkakaroon ng face-to-face classroom na mga klase,” Roque said in a televised briefing.

“Kung hindi talaga dumating ang new normal at hindi mai-lift ang mga community quarantines hindi naman po ibig sabihin na hindi na mag-aaral ang ating mga kabataan.”

He said the Department of Education may tap television, radio and internet to ensure the delivery of lessons.

“The bottomline is we will not compromise the health of our youth,” Roque said.

At a Senate hearing, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the opening of classes in August would be safe if the education sector and other stakeholders will ensure that minimum health standards would be followed.

“Pag-aaralan po natin maigi ito pero sa ngayon po tingin namin ay ligtas naman po kung bubuksan natin ang klase by August 24,” Duque said during a hearing conducted by the Senate committee on health.

“Ang kinakailangan lang po dito siguraduhin lamang ang lahat ng ating minimum standards for health ay nakatalaga. Ito po 'yung physical distancing, frequent washing of the hands, disinfection ng mga silid-aralan, at sinisiguro na ang alcohol, sanitizers andiyan din po,” he added.

Poor at a disadvantage

This setup, however, may put the poor "at a disadvantage," according to Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

In a statement, Drilon said internet access remains to be a problem for many Filipinos.

"The internet in the country remains the most expensive yet the slowest among Asian countries. I do not see how virtual classes being proposed by the DepEd can be effectively [be] implemented across all sectors. The poor will be at a disadvantage here," he said

The DepEd has set August 24 for the opening of the schoolyear 2020-2021. However, this means students will either go to class physically or via online due to the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and general community quarantine (GCQ) implemented in different parts of the country.

Under the guidelines set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), face-to face or in-person classes at all levels shall be suspended in areas under enhanced community quarantine and modified ECQ.

For the academic year 2020-2021, the following shall be observed for the conduct of classes in areas under general community quarantine:

  • The classes for the basic education will run from August 24, 2020 to April 30, 2021
  • adoption of various learning delivery options such as but not limited to face-to-face, blended learnings, distance learnings and homeschooling and other modes of delivery shall be implemented depending on the local COVID risk severity classification and compliance with minimum public health standards
  • conduct of curricular and co-curricular activities involving gatherings such as science fairs, showcase of portfolios, trade fairs, school sports, campus journalism, festival of talents, job fairs, and other similar activities is canceled, except those conducted online.

The opening of classes in universities and colleges, meanwhile, will depend on the education delivery mode.

  • higher education institutions using full online education can open anytime
  • HEIs using flexible learning can open anytime in August 2020
  • HEIs using significant residential (face-to-face/in-person) mode can open not earlier than September 1, 2020
  • no residential (face-to-face/in-person) classes until August 31, 2020

The government also urged private HEIs to change their academic calendar and open in August 2020. — KBK/RSJ, GMA News