For the second time, Philippine schools on Monday began a new school year for over 26 million students under a learning setup still carried out remotely as the national government has yet to address calls on the safe reopening of schools.
As of September 15, data from the Department of Education (DepEd) announced 26,308,875 million learners have enrolled for School Year 2021-2022, surpassing last year’s total of 26,227,022 million enrollees.
With 26.3 million enrollees for this year, the Department of Education has achieved 100.3 percent of last school year’s enrollment. The figure also showed 11 regions in the country hitting over 100 percent of their 2020 enrollment.
Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said there is an indication that more students from last school year have enrolled and those who skipped the previous academic year have returned.
The DepEd reported 27,770,263 enrollees in school year 2019-2020, so dropouts during the first year of the pandemic numbered to 1.3 million. Also still missing is the almost one million students that add to the yearly enrollment before school year 2020-2021.
Malaluan noted that the agency is expecting registration numbers to increase since the enrollment period has been extended until September 30.
However, Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations and Philippine Association of Colleges and Universities stressed that the country’s private education is now in a “critical state” especially with the steady decrease in enrollment in the past two years.
“Most private schools won’t be expecting a substantial increase on these numbers from late enrollees, as classes in public schools also begin and many private school students were expected to transfer,” the groups said in a joint statement.
Enrollment in private schools has again stood way below its pre-pandemic rate, where there were at least 4.3 million students. To date, only 1,668,489 students are currently enrolled in private schools.
In Alternative Learning System, the turnout has also remained low. Figures showed 199,422 will continue classes, or only 33.27 percent of the 599,365 last year.
Parents want F2F classes
Education Secretary Leonor Briones declared that the second year of school amid the pandemic was a success, going as far as claiming that the opening was “a celebration of victories and successes.”
“Today, September 13, 2021, DepEd and the rest of the country celebrates with great joy in success in opening classes for the second year at the time of Covid19,” Briones said during a livestream of the DepEd’s National School Opening Day program.
“Last year we opened classes, and we successfully ended them. Now we are opening another school year. Isn’t that success worthy of celebration?” she added.
But for parents in Palitiw, Pasig City the resumption of classes amid the pandemic isn’t something to celebrate as they expressed their continuous struggle in the blended learning setup.
Most of them lamented that they still experience difficulties in studying and explaining the self-learning modules to their kids; balancing the time of being a parent and a teacher; and having to deal with the country’s poor telecommunications services.
“Bago pa mag-pandemic gustong-gusto ko talaga yung mga bata na nasa school kasi nakatutok talaga sila sa pag-aaral. Ngayong nag-pandemic hirap ang mga estudiyante – ako rin ay nahihirapan sa kanila. Feeling ko hindi kinakaya ng mga magulang. Kaya gusto ko na sanang maibalik sa ang anak ko sa paaralan. Sana naman ang pandemic na ito ay hindi dahilan para hindi matuloy ang mga estudyante na pumasok sa school,” one mother told Manila Today.
[Even before he pandemic, I really want the kids to be in school because they are focused in their education there. During the pandemic, students struggled—I struggled for them, too. Parents can’t bear this anymore. That’s why I want my kids to go back to school. I hope this pandemic does not become the reason for students to not return to school.]
Another mother said, “Pabor na pabor ako sa pag-babalik paaralan ng aking mga anak. Mahirap po kasi talaga ang online class. Unang-una yung mga anak namin hindi talaga nakikinig sa amin. Kung sa titser nila, makikinig sila at matututo sila. Aminado naman ako na kami talaga ang sumasagot ng (module) kapag ayaw nila. At saka may maliit din akong anak, mahirap pagsabayin ang pagtuturo at pag-aalaga.”
[I am very much in favor of my kids returning to school. Online classes are really difficult. First of all, our kids don’t listen to us. If it’s their teachers, they listen and learn to them. We do admit that we answer the modules when the kids don’t want to do it. I also have a small kid, it’s too difficult to teach and care for them at the same time.]
Nanay Jekris, a resident of Quezon City and mother of school-aged children, pointed out that government has failed to provide the much needed school materials and learning resources for students, especially for those coming from poor families.
“Hindi na nga kami magkandaugaga sa pagtatrabaho para lang may pantustos sa araw-araw na gastusin at pagkain, dagdag na alalahanin pa namin kung paano na naman ituturo ang tambak tambak na modules sa aming mga anak. Buti sana kung modules lang. Eh kailangan din naman nila ng internet kasi kadalasan dun ipinapadala ang mga sasagutan,” she said.
[We couldn’t even manage working just so we have income to spend for daily expenses and food, teaching loads of modules to our children is an additional concern. They also need internet because that’s how they submit the assignments.]
Several students also aired their grievances and concerns with #AcademicBreak and #PagodNaKami trended on Twitter early this week.
Most of the tweets expressed frustration on the remote learning modality implemented for both basic education and tertiary levels.
The students stressed that they have been struggling with mental and physical burnout since the start of online classes last year.
Aside from calls for academic break, some users are also urging the government to provide concrete plans to the safe resumption of physical classes at all levels.
College Editors Guild of the Philippines said that the shortage of learning materials, delayed wages, and lack of teachers’ benefits are among the “manifestations of a failed education system.”
CEGP Deputy Secretary-General Regina Tolentino argued that the current setup of the education system has done nothing “but pushes through the anti-poor perspective and priorities of the government.”
“It’s been more than a year since the Filipino youth are long away from their physical classrooms, students and parents attest that the new normal of learning is ineffective and counterproductive,” Toletino said.
“The root of the problem should also be examined – the criminal negligence performance and the inability of Duterte to tend to the needs of the students,” she added.
Learning in crisis
Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns challenged the DepEd to address the recurrent problems of the country’s education system instead of declaring that the school opening amid the pandemic was a success.
“Hindi pwedeng makuntento na lang ang DepEd sa distance learning program nang walang malinaw na plano para sa muling pagbubukas ng mga paaralan. Anong klaseng edukasyon ang matatamasa ng mga bata kung ang mga eskwelahan ay patuloy na nakasara?” Salinlahi Secretary General Eule Rico Bonganay said.
[DepEd should not be satisfied with distance learning and have no clear plans for the reopening of schools. What kind of education would children receive if schools are still closed?]
Bonganay stressed that there should be changes in the framework and approach that which have been “proven to be flawed.”
“Hindi pwedeng walang pagbabago sa framework at approach na napatunayan nating palpak dahil mauulit nang mauulit lamang ang mga problema. Dapat may konkretong solusyon at mga hakbang para masiguro ang isang ligtas na balik paaralan,” Bongay said.
[Having no changes to the framework and approach have been proven to be a failure because all the problems would just repeat. There should be concrete solutions and steps to ensure safe reopening of schools.]
The group also raised some of the demands to the government in order to deliver a safe, equitable, quality and relevant education to Filipino children.
In a petition, Salihlahi urged the national government to roll out a clear plan for the immediate safe conduct of limited and voluntary in-classroom learning in zero-case and low-risk areas and provide a roadmap to the eventual safe reopening of schools across the country; allocate higher budget to education to ensure the provision of teaching and learning resources for distance learning as well as health protection and benefits to education workers; and implement genuine academic ease.
Overworked, underpaid and under-supported teachers
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers, on the other hand, denounced what it said was “the government’s neglect and lack of plans for the education sector.”
ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said that they refuse to allow Duterte’s “indifference to our plight” and DepEd’s “utter disregard for the welfare” of its constituents continue to reign.
“As state abandonment peaks, we have no one else to turn to but each other. The future of our youth and their right to accessible quality education now lies on the collective resolve of teachers, parents, and students to say no more and demand better,” he added.
The group also lamented that teachers have been “overworked, underpaid, and under-supported”, particularly amid the pandemic.
“Many of our colleagues fell ill and died due to Covid19, suffered physically and mentally due to the burdensome demands of distance learning, exhausted personal resources to meet the requisites of various modalities – all as we look after the future of our country, our youth,” ACT NCR Union President Vladimer Quetua said.
“We braved all sorts of risk and danger just to give our students a chance at education, some of which came at heavy costs. Who looks after us? We only demand what is due us, what we have earned, and what we deserve,” Quetua lamented.
Meanwhile, Isy Faingold of UNICEF’s education chief in the Philippines said that more than 80 percent of parents are worried their children “are learning less.”
“Distance learning cannot replace the in-person learning. There was already a learning crisis before Covid19. It’s going to be even worse,” Faingold said.
The UNICEF chief has likewise expressed fears that many students may never return to school, stressing that remote learning is also taking a toll on children’s mental health and development.
Duterte rejects holding of face-to-face classes
President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly rejected DepEd proposals for pilot run of physical classes due to concerns of more infectious variants of Covid19.
Even with “a positive reaction” to the proposal of Education Secretary Leonor Briones, Palace Spokesman Harry Roque on Monday said that Duterte has yet to decide on whether he would allow the limited face-to-face classes in 120 schools identified by DepEd.
“Secretary Briones gave a report to the President and the President gave a positive reaction on the possibility of having a pilot study on a limited basis,” Roque said.
“If I am not mistaken, around 150 schools are expected to be part of the pilot in areas where there are few Covid cases. But let us wait for the final decision,” he added.
Last month, Roque said the high turnout of COVID-19 vaccination might convince Duterte to allow the resumption of in-person classes.
UNICEF earlier urged the governments worldwide to start the “phased reopening” of schools as soon as possible, saying “prolonged school closures have an adverse impact on learners.”
“It is plain ridiculous for our schools to remain indefinitely closed when there have been plenty of studies and successful experiences from other countries that prove safe school reopening is not only possible, but necessary,” Dr. Mercedes Arzadon, Convenor of SEQuRe Education Movement, said.
“Our youth’s future and well-being are at stake, and so is national development. Time is of the essence, especially with the threat of severe learning loss and retrogression if school closure is further prolonged,” Ardazon added.
Ardazon, also a professor at the UP College of Education, argued that school reopening shouldn’t also be solely dependent on the country’s vaccine rollout as announced several times by Duterte.
She cited the need to equip schools with safety measures and medical support for its stakeholders, as well as to improve basic medical responses such as mass testing, contact tracing, and faster vaccine rollout.
“We are calling on the Duterte government and education officials to formulate a strategy for the gradual reopening of all schools this school year,” Ardazon said.
“It has already been proven that the current distance learning set-up is not working, if not totally and merely onerous to the education sector, especially poor rural children. We must move forward and plan for better ways to cope and strive for quality education despite grueling circumstances,” she added.
The Philippines and Venezuela are the only countries where schools are closed and has not had any form of face-to-face classes for over a year.