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Briones: Philippine education can’t wait for COVID-19 vaccine

Education Secretary Leonor Briones stood firm on Thursday that basic education classes in the Philippines will open on August 24 but not necessarily through face-to-face mode, as she stressed that learning cannot be postponed until a vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available.

"As to the matter of readiness, when will we be ready? I'm not of the mind that time will come when we will be 100% ready. By the time we are 100% ready, other problems and complications would have come in," Briones said at a Senate hearing.

"If we don't tackle these problems now, we'll be unprepared to meet the problems which will occur when we feel that we are already ready... Right now talagang ang fixed is August 24," she added.

Briones underscored that it would still cost the government P395 billion to compensate the teachers and personnel in the education sector for a "year of waiting" if the classes would be suspended for that long.

As of June 11, the DepEd has reached over 36% of its projected enrollment rate with nearly 10 million public and private school students who signed up for the school year 2020-2021.

"We're working against a very tough timetable but if we keep moving our timetables, then we keep confusing the public, especially the parents and even our legislative supporters," Briones said.

Asked by Senator Sherwin Gatchalian if DepEd is still preparing for the possibility of face-to-face classes despite its stand that "blended" forms of learning will be used across the country, the Cabinet official said the ripe answers could be expected by mid-July.

She stressed that while the education sector's approach to the new normal is based on global standards, its application will have to be localized too.

"There are local governments, there are units, there are islands which have not even heard of COVID, even as they're very close also to places which are crowded with COVID victims. We are also monitoring these and we will be reporting to the President on the situation," Briones said.

'Alternative forms of learning'

Democracy.Net.PH, an internet and ICT rights advocacy organization, said the Philippine education stakeholders should leverage on "legacy technologies" such as TV and radio, not just on online platforms alone when the classes open in August.

"ICT and the internet is not going to be a magic bullet today. We are not yet ready. We will never be ready if we are going to use only online," the organization's founder Pierre Tito Galla said.

Though the education sector experienced a P8.4 billion budget cut—which has been realigned for COVID-19 efforts pursuant to the Bayanihan law—Briones said the DepEd is willing to push through with its Learning Continuity Plan though it is costly.

She said the department has already trained 320,000 or 38% of public school teachers in using ICT for online delivery of lessons.

"For offline naman, we also are aware that itong modules that will be printed will cost more than online approach pero wala tayong magawa kung talagang hindi available ang connectivity," she added.

Briones said the DepEd is also in the process of converting "most essential learning competencies" to formats that can be aired in TV and radio channels.

"The readiness, right now, we are not ready. But by August 24, I believe that the elements that we are looking for, that we are wanting, would be ready," she said.

Despite DepEd's announcement that classes will open on August 24, Congress still pushed for the swift passage of a bill authorizing President Rodrigo Duterte to reschedule it beyond the said date for contingency purposes, in case the COVID-19 situation worsens.

Duterte vowed to "scrape the bottom of the barrel" to fund the alternative forms of learning being proposed by the DepEd. — RSJ, GMA News