7 more weeks to prepare

7 more weeks to prepare

After repeatedly saying that classes would start on Aug. 24, the Department of Education changed its mind. With teachers themselves pointing out that they need more time to prepare for blended learning modalities, DepEd has moved for another postponement of the school opening. President Duterte promptly approved the proposal to start the school year on Oct. 5.

That’s seven weeks away – a longer “timeout” than the two weeks granted to health frontliners. About 100 medical groups had asked for a return to tighter quarantine restrictions to slow down COVID transmission and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. The President then returned Metro Manila and four provinces to the stricter modified enhanced community quarantine or MECQ.

The two-week MECQ, however, also restricted preparations for the Aug. 24 school opening. DepEd officials say this was one of the major reasons for the decision to move the school opening again, this time to the fourth quarter of the year.

Like the two-week timeout for health workers, the seven-week postponement should be maximized to boost preparations for the unprecedented shift to blended learning. DepEd officials have said late enrollees will be accepted during this period. Fear of children getting infected plus the loss of livelihoods have kept millions of school children from enrolling.

The postponement can also be used to address a major concern of teachers: COVID infection. While there will be no face-to-face classes, teachers will still have regular physical interaction with parents. Teachers will continue reporting to school, some of which have areas that are being used as COVID quarantine facilities.

Among the biggest concerns of teachers and students alike are internet and broadcast connectivity as well as access to gadgets for blended learning. While physical learning modules are also being prepared for distribution to those without access to digital education, connectivity needs improvement even in urban centers. Test runs of the blended learning mode revealed technical glitches.

The test runs also revealed problems even with the content of lessons in digital format. More than technical glitches, errors in the content of lessons need to be urgently detected and corrected before classes start.

Some private schools have already started classes using fully remote learning methods. The government has said such schools will be allowed to proceed with their classes. The public school system cannot afford to be left too far behind, but the risk of COVID infection also cannot be discounted. The next seven weeks should be fully utilized to address these concerns.