MEMBERS of the House of Representatives welcomed the Education department’s move allowing limited face-to-face classes in areas that are under the two lowest alert levels for coronavirus, but at the same time called on the agency to include more measures to make learning more accessible and safer for students. 

Kabataan Rep. Sarah Jane I. Elago called on the Department of Education (DepEd) to allocate more subsidies for schools to ensure implementation of safety protocols.

Under the Philippine COVID-19 alert level system, 5 is the strictest while 1 is the most relaxed and only minimal safety health protocols need to be followed. 

Under the most recent DepEd guideline, areas under Alert 1 and 2 are allowed to resume in-person classes. 

DepEd had a test run of limited physical classes last year from Nov. 15 to Dec. 22. Around 287 schools joined the simulation. 

“There must be additional subsidies available for schools to implement all the necessary COVID-19 mitigation and prevention strategies including free testing and WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) facilities to allow and encourage the safe and voluntary return of students, teachers and staff in their campuses,” she said in a statement. 

Albay Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente “Joey” S. Salceda, meanwhile, suggested an expanded access to the Alternative Learning System (ALS). 

“…We need to increase access to the Alternative Learning System. This has been one of the most effective anti-poverty measures of the DepEd,” he said in a statement. 

“The ALS has been a very attractive path for learners who cannot afford to go to conventional school but want to attain diplomas. That source of demand has increased during the pandemic.” 

Mr. Salceda noted that there is around P599 million allocated in the national budget that could be used for supporting alternative learning programs and P14.7 billion set aside in the DepEd budget for flexible learning materials. 

He also recommended that the DepEd create a catch-up plan for the learning gaps caused by the pandemic, similar to the National Recovery Plan for economic growth and job recovery. 

ACT-Teachers Rep. France L. Castro, for her part, suggested several health measures such as the mass hiring of school nurses and providing weekly free COVID-19 testing for teachers and school staff. 

“Government should ramp up its plans and prepare our schools for the safe reopening of classes to also boost the nation’s confidence and allow the safe reopening of face-to-face classes,” Ms. Castro said in a statement.

“Use scientific measures and not non-sense policies to ensure that our schools are indeed safe for in-class learning. Let us not waste any more resources with barriers and never-ending lockdowns of schools,” she added.

Ms. Castro also said that DepEd should provide more support to teachers. — Jaspearl Emerald G. Tan