By Deighton Acuin

PHOTO: Manila Bulletin

Malacañang said Friday the face-to-face classes might be limited to only few hours at a time if President Rodrigo Duterte will approve its pilot implementation in areas with low transmission of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

According to Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, Duterte and his Cabinet will tackle the possible approval on Monday, February 22.

"Hindi naman sinabi na palibhasa face-to-face, 'yan po ay 8 hours, 5 days a week," he said in a televised announcement.

"Pwede naman one hour per week, 3 hours per week, basta meron lang pong kombinasyon ng module, ng computer-aided at saka face-to-face kung kinakailanagan makipag-ugnayan sa mga guro,” Roque added.

Duterte earlier suspended the pilot implementation of face-to-face learning due to the detection of new and more infectious coronavirus variant in the country.

“Pero sa tingin ko po, alam na natin ang anyo ng bagong variant ngayon, mas nakakahawa. Pero alam din po natin ang kasagutan sa bagong variant na ‘yan mas maigting na mask, hugas at iwas,” Roque said earlier this week.

While waiting for a go signal, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the Department of Education (DepEd) was preparing for the implementation.

“Naghahanda kami. Baka dadating na i-lift na ni President [Rodrigo Duterte] ang deferment ng pilot studies natin na ito,” she said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.

She cited a survey in which “more than 50 percent” of students are in favor of attending physical sessions.

She added a “significant portion” of teachers also want to hold in-person learning while parents are still undecided.

Briones reiterated that “stringent” conditions must be met before a school can implement limited in-person classes, such as securing the approval of the local government, getting written consent forms from parents, and ensuring students’ safety in public transportation, among others.

She also said prolonged closure of schools has an impact on students’ psychosocial welfare.

The Philippines is also the only country in Southeast Asia that has yet to hold in-person classes, even on a limited scale to supplement distance-learning modalities, she added.

In the past weeks, various groups have called on the government to safely reopen schools and conduct in-person classes, saying that the current distance learning setup is no longer feasible due to several issues faced by students, parents and teachers.