Classes on Aug. 24; listing set June 1-30
MALACANANG clarified yesterday that enrolment for public schools will proceed June 1 to 30, and that classes will start Aug. 24. Details are on the news pages. Our advance column, which had to be updated, was based on Monday’s statement of President Duterte, who did not favor an Aug. 24 opening of classes if by that time there was no vaccine yet for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
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The seemingly simple question is: Should schools be opened on Aug. 24, as announced by the Department of Education? The academic calendar has to be adjusted to buy time for fine-tuning anti-COVID measures before school opening.
President Duterte has given a qualified “No” answer to the question on the Aug. 24 opening of classes. In a televised message Monday night he said: “Unless I am sure that they (students) are really safe, it’s useless to be talking about opening of classes… Para sa akin, bakuna muna. ’Pag nandiyan na ang bakuna, OK na.” (For me, there should be a vaccine first. Once there’s a vaccine, it’s OK.)
Like the rest of the world, the President is waiting for a number of countries racing to develop a vaccine that will shield people from coronavirus infection. This is separate from other researches to find a cure for those already afflicted with it.
While many of us wondered if Duterte was superseding the announcement by Education Secretary Leonor Briones that classes would start on Aug. 24, Harry Roque, the official interpreter of presidential ambiguity, told the media:
“What he (Duterte) meant was as long as we don’t have a vaccine and we aren’t yet under the ‘new normal’… we won’t have face-to-face classes. If we’re under a ‘new normal’ on Aug. 24, it can be done. But if we are not yet under a ‘new normal’ and the community quarantines are not yet lifted, it does not mean that our youth can no longer study.”
Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. backed the President’s wanting to see vaccination before students return to school. He said on Twitter: “He’s right. What do you want, a kid one or two grades behind but alive or forever behind because dead. Choose. And grow up and accept the consequences of your choice.”
Before anybody with a dim view of academics could butt in with “Why let going to school interfere with one’s education?” we heard other voices.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque sang a somewhat safe tune — that it would be all right to open classes on Aug. 24 as long as protocols against COVID-19 are strictly followed. With hints of charges hanging over his head arising from procurement of DoH supplies, he has to be careful.
Did Roque’s clarification make his boss’s remarks any clearer by bringing up the idea of a still nebulous “new normal” and what he called “blended or flexible learning” in the holding of physical and/or virtual classes?
Yesterday’s story described “new normal” as the “emerging behavior, situations and minimum public health standards that will be institutionalized in common or routine practices and remain while the disease is not totally eradicated through such means as widespread immunization.”
Expect that jaw-breaking description (not a definition) to keep evolving. As for us, we would be mostly watching on the sidelines, resigned to the reality that the upcoming “New Normal” will be whatever Duterte says it is.
We like it that the pandemic is forcing us to make it possible for many Filipino students to be “learning from home” as kids in other countries do. Attending school without boundaries is akin to our working as journalists linked to the whole wired world.
We have to catch up with those whose classroom sessions are supplemented by the use of computers and such electronic devices beaming lessons and references from a remote central source, monitored by a teacher and/or a technician.
In the Senate, minority leader Franklin Drilon pointed out that Rep. Act 7977 allows the opening of classes “not later than the last day of August”. (We did not realize until we heard him that the opening date of classes is dictated by law.)
Drilon said: “I just signed today (Tuesday) the committee report authorizing the President to set the start of the school year in the event of a declaration of a state of emergency, state of calamity, or similar occurrence such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Like many others, he noted that while the DepEd was considering “online learning, virtual classes, and hybrid classes,” the sad reality is that majority of the population still does not have access to the internet — making online classes not yet feasible.
“The internet in the country is the most expensive yet the slowest in Asia,” Drilon lamented. “How can the virtual classes being proposed by the DepEd be effectively implemented across all sectors? The poor will be at a disadvantage.”
Like the seasons in Duterte’s favorite Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, the opening of classes comes with such regularity that a drastic revamp of the school calendar, such as resetting the opening of classes, leaves students and parents disjointed.
But seeing the COVID-19 pandemic being used to justify draconian measures, we wonder if some sections of the Constitution, such as the Bill of Rights, have been suspended. Watch for any shifting of the center of political gravity through the flexing of presidential muscles.
Grown tired guessing what the President wants, we are tempted to simply wait for events to show where Duterte — having consolidated power on the pretext of saving the country from an extreme emergency – is taking us.
On Monday, Metro Manila will transition from the “enhanced” lockdown that has restricted mobility and curtailed economic activity and civil liberties, to a more relaxed General Community Quarantine – except probably for troublesome neighborhoods where tight police control will remain.