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PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has approved the pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes in areas deemed low-risk for COVID-19, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque announced Monday.

In a virtual press briefing, Roque said that classes will take place only in areas which have been evaluated by the Department of Health (DOH) as low-risk for COVID-19 and have also passed the safety assessment of the Department of Education (DepEd).

He further noted that the pilot classes will run on half days, every other week for two months, which require written support and consent from parents of the students.

Moreover, local government units (LGUs) are expected to issue resolutions or letters in support of the conduct of the pilot face-to-face classes.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones shared that the country’s chief executive has already provided and submitted the pilot testing’s guidelines.

Among the policies that the guidelines considered are those that belong to the DOH, Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), child education experts, and DepEd itself to ensure that the pilot in-person classes will be done with extreme precautions and stringent health protocols.

The implementation of the limited face-to-face classes upon experts’ recommendation will cover a maximum of 120 public and private schools, where 100 public schools in minimal risk areas will participate while an additional 20 private schools are “subject to joint validation” both by the DepEd and DOH.

Kindergarten classes will be limited to 12 students while those in the clusters of Grades One to Three are limited to 16.

The guidelines said that Kindergarten to Grade Three classes should only consume a three-hour maximum teaching and learning approach.

Meanwhile, technical vocational students in Senior High Schools (SHS) is bound to have only 20 learners with a maximum of a four-hour long class in each session.

While in-person classes will be done, schools will still operate with an online set-up as classes will be held for alternating weeks.

According to Briones, the DepEd has yet to reveal the list of the participating schools and the exact date of the pilot testing as they have just received the news of Duterte’s approval.

She, however, assured that they will immediately release the official announcement and complete details once the DepEd obtains the full instruction from the Chief Executive.

Asked whether teachers are ready enough for the pilot run, Briones believed that the agency and teachers managed to brace themselves as they have long been preparing for the said scheme.

Palagay ko handa sila [teachers] kasi matagal na namin ito… Ilang buwan na itong pinag-uusapan kung paano ii-implement dahil napaka-sensitive na issue ito. Ang pinag-uusapan dito ay health and then the economy and balancing health and economy is not the easiest thing in the world so ito pinaghahandaan namin,” Briones said.

Last September 13, primary education level-institutions in the country have resumed its classes under another new academic year using the same blended learning system.

The Philippines remains to be one of two countries that had not yet re-opened educational institutions since the onset of World Health Organization’s COVID-19 pandemic declaration, a factor that contributes to other issues.

Roque also admitted that the closure of academic institutions is part of other national concerns which need to be addressed.

Ito po ay hindi lang issue ng edukasyon. Ito po ay issue na rin ng mental health at ekonomiya,” he said.

Online cheating through a Facebook group has also surfaced as an issue, which further prompted critics and experts to nudge the national government and DepEd to conduct pilot testing of limited face-to-face classes.

Briones has earlier recognized the problem and reiterated in the press briefing that the DepEd will no longer tolerate students, should they continue to disregard academic integrity.

Ang question ng cheating ay hindi lamang question sa education. Question iyan sa buong lipunan ng Pilipinas. Ang question ng cheating in schools [ay] lingering issue. Hindi ko jina-justify, I’m saying it’s there and we will not tolerate it,” Briones stated.

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