More than 17 months since the suspension of physical classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has permitted colleges and universities to hold limited face-to-face classes at 50% capacity across all courses in areas classified under Alert Level 2.
These included nine provinces in Luzon, eleven in Visayas, and nine in Mindanao, per the resolution published by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on October 28.
Colleges and universities in Metro Manila are also included in this planned in-person learning scheme as the region has also been placed under Alert Level 2 since Friday, November 5.
However, the reopening of schools will not begin immediately. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque laid down the CHED-crafted guidelines, which colleges and universities must follow before conducting limited face-to-face learning.
For instance, schools must ensure that instructors and students are fully vaccinated and that schools must operate at a maximum of 50% capacity. They should also get approval from their respective local governments and CHED, who will inspect classrooms retrofitted for the implementation of in-person learning.
“Pupwede nang magkaroon ng limited face-to-face [classes] pero hindi po ‘yan instant. Hindi po magkaka-face-to-face [classes] sa Lunes,” Roque said.
[There could now be limited face-to-face classes, but that won’t happen in an instant. We will not have face-to-face classes by Monday.]
CHED Chairperson Prospero de Vera also clarified in an interview on CNN Philippines that students who are not yet vaccinated may continue studying offline:
“Yung mga hindi bakunado, pwede namang magpatuloy doon sa kanilang flexible learning which combines either online or offline. So, option yan sa mga pamantasan kung […] sinong magpapatuloy na gagamit ng online or offline options,” De Vera said.
[Those who have not been vaccinated can continue on the flexible learning mode, which combines online or offline. That is an option for schools as to who will continue to use online or offline options.]
De Vera first said on October 29 that around 30% of students in the tertiary level have been inoculated with the COVID-19 vaccine. The government agency is aiming for a 70-80% vaccination goal by the end of November.
The reopening of schools for face-to-face classes is planned on January next year.
CHED’s approval to resume in-person learning is just part of the government’s push to reopen schools, with the pilot testing face-to-face classes for 100 selected primary and secondary schools already scheduled on November 15.
Earlier in September, the government allowed face-to-face classes for selected specializations that require hands-on training.
The Philippines is the last country in the world to return to in-person classes.
Progressive groups welcome CHED’s decision, continue calls for passing bills on safe school reopening and student aid
Following the announcement, Kabataan Partylist and National Union of Students of the Philippines affirmed the government’s decision while calling for students’ rights and welfare amid the pandemic.
Kabataan Partylist First Nominee Raoul Manuel pointed out that the government should address other concerns that are affecting the education sector, such as the impending Php. 14.7 billion budget cut for 114 state universities and colleges next year.
He also urged the government to support the passage of HB 10398 or the Safe School Reopening Bill that seeks to cover students’ and instructors’ health, welfare, and safety. These include funding for improved health services, supplies, and facilities; compensating teachers for work-related matters, including internet, device, hazard and overtime pay, medical subsidies; and protecting democratic rights and academic freedom.
“Kinuwenta naming nasa 184 bilyong piso ang kailangan para masakatuparan ito para sa lahat ng paaralan sa buong bansa. Sukli lang ito kumpara sa bilyong pondong nakaipon at nasasayang sa nakatagong Confidential and Intelligence Funds ng administrasyong Duterte at sa 30 bilyon na pondong hawak ng National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict,” he said.
[We computed around P 184 billion in funds are needed to implement this in all schools in the country. This is loose change compared to the billions of funds accumulated and wasted in the hidden Confidential and Intelligence Funds of the Duterte administration and the P 30 billion funds of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.]
Youth leaders also addressed the harmful effects of the remote learning scheme on the academic community, including the cases of suicide among students this past week alone.
Coleen Manibo, NUSP Secretary-General, described the implementation of the remote learning schemes in the country and its adverse impact on students as a cataclysm.
“Triple ang pasanin ng mga estudyante sa pagharap sa palpak na implementation ng distance learning. Nagsanga-sanga na ang mga problema,” Manibo said.
[The students’ burdens tripled in the face of failed implementation of distance learning. Problems ramified.]