Two years after the pandemic started, where is Philippine education headed next?
On this day exactly two years ago (March 9, 2020), the seriousness of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic made itself to Filipinos. During that Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte announced a week-long suspension of classes throughout Metro Manila which served as the government’s first attempt at imposing movement restrictions in connection with the unfolding health crisis.
Duterte eventually expanded the suspension of classes to a month – this time covering the entire country. Classes in public schools did not resume until October 2020, and only in a modular and online learning set-up. The Department of Education (DepEd) began the limited resumption of face-to-face classes in low risk areas by November 2021, but it was halted by January 2022 as the omicron variant triggered an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases.
With the number of COVID-19 cases now back to pre-omicron levels, DepEd has swiftly moved to resume the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in more areas. Last month, National Action Plan on COVID-19 chief implementer Carlito Galvez even predicted that in-person classes may resume in all levels by August 2022.
However, it will be wrong to think that face-to-face classes can resume as if its March 9, 2020 again. First of all, health experts around the world are in unison in saying that it is premature to say that COVID-19 is no longer a pandemic. Yet another new variant can potentially appear, health care systems are still fragile, vaccination rates remain suboptimal, and death rates continue to be bothersome.
The Filipino Scribe has also pointed out previously that a lot has to be done to upgrade school facilities to make them more responsive to the ongoing health crisis like improving ventilation and health and sanitation facilities. There is also the need to hire more teachers and build more classrooms and school buildings.
There is also the reality that DepEd has already spent billions in supporting modular, online, and other alternative learning modalities like using television and radio. Given how much DepEd has invested in the training of teachers, the production of learning materials, and in the procurement of information and communication technologies, it is necessary to make the aforementioned alternative learning modalities a permanent feature of the Philippine education system.
It is also important to consider that teachers and students alike have done their best to adapt to the “new normal” in education set-up by investing in laptops, smartphones, getting a better Internet service provider, and the like. Come to think of it, some learning areas can actually be taught online exclusively – a welcome news for a country with a lingering problem with classroom shortage and where commuting everyday is a top cause of stress.
In other words, the Philippines together with the rest of the world should embrace the changes in the education system that the COVID-19 pandemic has “forced” upon us.