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OPINION: Face-to-face classes will worsen Philippines’ COVID-19 crisis

President Rodrigo Duterte last week approved the proposed resumption of limited face-to-face classes in areas deemed to have low risk of COVID-19 transmission even as the country struggles to contain the outbreak of the respiratory disease.

The proposal, according to the Department of Education (DepEd), was prompted by supposed appeals from several local government units despite the increasing number of virus infections across the country.

While face-to-face classes will only be allowed starting January 2021, the proposal would only worsen the COVID-19 crisis in the Philippines by putting more lives at risk of contracting the virus.

Instead of simply focusing on preparing the Philippine education system for blended learning, the DepEd now has the additional burden of ensuring that schools are also equipped for limited face-to-face classes—an unnecessary burden in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.

Until now, DepEd has yet to present a flawless plan for its blended learning program with less than a month left before classes start on Aug. 24. And yet it takes on another challenge of preparing a plan for limited face-to-face classes.

Education and health should not be the sole consideration in the proposed limited face-to-face classes. The DepEd should also look at the socio-economic conditions and landscape of areas where limited face-to-face classes would be allowed to get a better picture of its viability.

It is not enough that schools are regularly disinfected and have water taps for handwashing.

The DepEd should also consider the economic background of students in these areas—do they have money for face masks? What are the risks of contracting the virus if the students travel to and from the school? Are teachers prepared to resume face-to-face learning?

With two forms of education delivery in the pipeline, the education department is only stretching itself thin just to appear competent and prepared to respond to the learning challenges brought by the pandemic. It is not.

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