MANILA, Philippines? — The Department of Education (DepEd) is urging private schools to defer plans to increase tuition and miscellaneous fees in view of financial constraints faced by parents due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In an advisory, DepEd said it recognized the need to ensure the sustainability of private education institutions, but stressed that this should be balanced with the accessibility of their services to learners, particularly those whose families are experiencing financial difficulties.
“The department shall endeavor to make any application of private schools of tuition increases
transparent and reasonable, in accordance with the applicable laws and rules and regulations,” it added.
Under existing guidelines, applications for tuition and other fee increases in private basic education institutions are handled by the DepEd regional offices.
Partial data released by DepEd showed 645 out of 901 tuition hike applications of private schools in 13 regions have been approved as of May 14.
A total of 556 private elementary and high schools applied before the community quarantine, while 345 private schools applied during the quarantine.
Data on the number of schools that have applied for tuition hikes next school year have yet to be released.
Asked about the possibility of a moratorium on tuition hikes, DepEd Undersecretary for finance Annalyn Sevilla said the matter would be discussed next week during a meeting with private school organizations.
DepEd also called on private schools to be transparent on the structure of tuition and miscellaneous fees, noting concerns over certain school charges not consistent with distance learning.
In its advisory, DepEd also reiterated that there would be no face-to-face classes unless determined safe by relevant national government agencies.
“DepEd assures the public that the alternative learning delivery modes (television, radio, online, printed modules) being updated and prepared are in accordance with education standards set by the Department,” it said.
“These modes have been used as supplement to face-to-face learning even before the pandemic,” added the agency.
The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) also clarified that there would be no pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in tertiary institutions next month.
CHED chairman J. Prospero De Vera III said he might have been misunderstood when he said in a television interview that they plan to “test run” the guidelines they are crafting for possible limited face-to-face classes in low risk areas.
The test run, he said, meant that he would visit higher education institutions (HEIs) to look at the physical arrangements of classrooms and other facilities to determine if the limited face-to-face classes could be implemented.
He noted that no physical classes would happen next month given the previous decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) allowing HEIs to use flexible learning in August.
He said the IATF allowed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority to have limited face-to-face training programs starting July.
“This is the reason why CHED, in consultation with the Department of Health, is now crafting guidelines for possible limited face-to-face classes in low risk MGCQ areas as part of the flexible learning system,” he said, adding that the commission plans to submit these guidelines for IATF decision in late June or early July.
Meanwhile, DepEd noted concerns of private schools over a recent department order requiring them to complete a checklist and submit a readiness assessment to implement distance learning.
The agency said the matter would also be discussed during the meeting with major private school associations and organizations next week.
The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) said the order did not comply with the requirements for public consultation and publication for it to take effect.
It noted jurisprudence stating that while the state has the authority to check on the operations of private schools, “it does not include the right to manage, dictate, overrule and prohibit.”
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the requirements demanded from private schools are the same the group has been calling for in the public sector, but to which DepEd has not committed.
“One thing that this list of non-negotiable elements of distance learning reveals is that DepEd recognizes the importance of such in order to ensure safe and optimal delivery of education services and its accessibility to all stakeholders,” said ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio.
Some 13.8 million students have registered for the coming school year during the online registration being conducted by the DepEd amid COVID-19 pandemic.
During a public hearing of the Senate committee on basic education chaired by Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, Education Undersecretary Tonisito Umali said 70 to 80 percent of students from Metro Manila have registered through the online enrollment campaign of the department from June 1 to 15 largely through the dropbox system.
Gatchalian presided over the hearing via video conference?on two Senate bills: SB 1565 – Establishing policies for education and learning in the new normal, prescribing for the purpose standards for the reopening of safe schools, and creating the Safe Schools Reopening Task Force; and SB 1460 – Expanding the Basic Education Curriculum, increasing the functions of the Bureau of Learning Delivery under the Department of Education to include Distance Education and Online Learning, thereby amending RA 10533 (Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013).
Sen. Francis Tolentino questioned the DepEd’s ability to train teachers on distance learning for the opening of classes on Aug. 24 as he revealed that only 337,486 public school teachers have been trained on information and communications technology-based instruction.
Quoting an international study, Tolentino said the preparation for the proper implementation of distance learning would take around six to nine months.
DepEd Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio said the department aims to provide needed training for the remaining 60 percent of teachers.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros urged the DepEd to provide laptops or internet-capable devices and WiFi allowance to public school teachers.
Hontiveros also questioned DepEd’s proposal to have teachers enter into loans with the Government Insurance Service System to buy laptops worth P20,000 or less. Cecille Suerte Felipe