Philippines to launch pilot plan to resume face-to-face learning

FILE PHOTO: Annie Sabino, 16, a grade 9 student, completes her school work next to her dog, while tending to her family's sidewalk eatery beside their home, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, January 6, 2021./File Photo

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the resumption of face-to-face classes in areas deemed low risk for COVID-19, with up to 120 schools to join a two-month pilot reopening run, his education minister said on Monday.

The Philippines is among 17 countries globally where schools have been closed for the entirety of the pandemic, according to a report last week by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF, highlighting what it called "18 months of lost learning".

It said there were 39 countries where schools remained partially closed, as of this month.

Duterte has held off on reopening schools, sticking to a vow to keep them shut until a vaccine was available, warning that doing otherwise "spells disaster". The Philippines has been fighting one of Asia's worst COVID-19 epidemics.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones said face-to-face learning will be limited to 3-4 hours per session, with consent from parents and guardians required.

The pilot will cover 100 public schools and 20 private institutions, limiting class size to 12 learners in kindergarten, 16 in grades 1-3, and 20 at senior high school level.

"If there are changes in the risk assessment, then we will stop it," she said in a media briefing.

The pilot will begin as soon as possible, depending on the readiness of schools, she said.

The number of those enrolled in online learning in the school year that started last week rose to 28 million from about 26 million last year, Briones said.

(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)

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