‘WE'RE READY’. Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte delivers her opening statement during a hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Basic Education on Friday (Aug. 19, 2022). She discussed the department’s preparations for School Year 2022-2023 and other problems hounding the education sector. (Screengrab from Senate livestream)

MANILA – Vice President and Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Sara Duterte on Friday told the Senate that she would continue to find solutions to turn the quality of basic education around.

During a hearing conducted by the Committee on Basic Education, Duterte said DepEd is all set for School Year 2022-2023 and addressing long-standing issues, such as the shortage of classrooms and teachers and the damage caused by calamities.

"Since I assumed office last July 1 this year, we immediately prepared and put to task my execom (executive committee) to focus on ensuring a smooth opening of the in-person classes come August 2022. With all your help in the Senate, I think we will be able to turn around the quality of basic education in our country in the next six years," she said via videoconference.

Committee chair Senator Sherwin Gatchalian assured that the 19th Congress would prioritize the passage of measures on academic recovery and improving the basic competencies of Filipino learners, including the review of the current K to 12 program.

"I hope I can count on your support as we embark on a new fight for the best possible education for the younger generation," Gatchalian said.

Duterte said education front-liners, such as teachers, school heads, school division superintendents, and regional directors, “are making their utmost efforts to allow our learners to return safely in schools.”

As part of the transition to in-person classes, she said, blended learning shall be implemented at first.

"We are continuing to study the implementation of blended learning as a permanent mode of instruction for basic education. However, come November 2, the full implementation of five days in-person classes is expected for public and private schools," she added.

Preparations

Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III, DepEd Chief of Staff, said Department Order 34, which sets the guidelines for School Year 2022-2023, was written by the Vice President herself.

"It was she who have mentioned that we have to start with the face-to-face classes as the previous two years have already suffered a large number of measuring learning loss for the children," Densing said. "This has been seen in many studies from local academicians and the World Bank. It is very critical that we go back to face-to-face learning and this is the major provision of the Department Order.”

He said private and public schools are allowed to do blended learning from August 22 to October 31 so they could adjust to the transition.

DepEd Undersecretary for Field Operations Revsee Escobedo also assured the Senate committee that protocols are in place for the health, safety, and well being of learners, teachers, and other school staff.

He added that there would be a shift to blended learning in case of a rise in the number of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) infections in a particular class or school.

Senator Pia Cayetano encouraged DepEd to work on their public relations and information campaign efforts.

"We don't want any parents panicking, and sadly a lot of parents pick up and rely on news that are on TikTok, on Facebook. I hope DepEd is coming up with creative ways to not just balance this out but to overcome the reliance on those kinds of information," she said.

Densing said the DepEd website contains answers to frequently asked questions for parents who are still apprehensive about sending their children to school and actions for a safe school opening.

Funding

Senator Robinhood Padilla said he would work on the increase in DepEd’s budget, especially for programs focused on Indigenous Peoples (IP), asking the department’s Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla to submit their programs, plans, and funding request.

Mahalaga na mapalawak natin ang kaalaman ng ating mga kababayan  lalo na ang tungkol sa mga IP. Titiyakin ko po na dagdagan ang budget. Ganoon din po sa iba (It is important that our countrymen widen their knowledge about our IPs. I will see to it that your budget will be raised, same with other programs),” Padilla said.

The education sector obtained the largest increase in the approved 2022 General Appropriations Act during the previous administration.

The DepEd, state universities and colleges, and the Commission on Higher Education were allocated PHP788.5 billion, or PHP36.8 billion higher than the previous year’s budget.

Padilla likewise asked DepEd to continue the work of the anti-corruption committee, which Densing said would be expanded.

Senator Nancy Binay, who attended the meeting virtually after testing positive for Covid-19, said she trusts Duterte could make a big difference in the education sector.

"Sa aking tingin (The way I see it), the mere fact the Vice President of the Philippines is on top of our problems in the education, malaking tulong ito para unti-unti na nating mabigyan ng solusyon ang problema natin sa edukasyon (This is a big help to gradually give solutions to our problems in education)," Binay said. (With a report from Leonel Abasola/PNA)