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Philippine schools set to remain closed

Duterte says he wants a coronavirus vaccine available before sending teachers, students back to classrooms

Philippine schools set to remain closed

Students wait to enter a classroom on the first day of term in this June 3, 2019, file photo. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he wants a coronavirus vaccine made available before schools can reopen. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)

Schools in the Philippine look set to remain closed until a coronavirus vaccine is made available after President Rodrigo Duterte declared he will not risk the lives of students and teachers without one.

“I will not allow the opening of classes if children are seated beside each other and they are together inside their classroom. It spells disaster,” Duterte said in a televised speech on May 25.

He said it is useless to discuss the reopening of classes if students’ safety cannot be guaranteed. “For me, vaccine first. If it’s made available, then it’s OK [to resume classes]. Remember that,” he added.

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The Education Department announced earlier that the academic year would begin in August, sparking concern over children’s health and safety.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones had said, however, that a resumption does not mean a physical presence in the classroom as strategies were being drafted to implement online and distance learning amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When we say the opening of schools, it does not mean that we will be asking teachers and students to physically go to the school,” said Briones in a radio interview.

However, she admitted that the Education Department needs at least 27 billion pesos (US$540 million) to provide laptops for each teacher in the public school system.

“The direction [of the online learning program] is to provide a laptop for each teacher. I hope we can raise the funds by August,” the education chief said.

The Education Department also revealed that in 2019 there were 800,000 teachers teaching 23 million students in public schools, exceeding the department’s ratio goal of one teacher to 25 students.

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