The onset of summer and its accompanying heat that turns unbearable at time has prompted the Department of Education (DepEd) to remind heads of public and private schools nationwide that they have the authority to suspend or cancel in-person classes and instead implement modular distance learning (MDL) modes amid extreme heat.
Department Order No. 037 provides for the implementation of MDL in the event of cancellation or suspension of classes due to natural calamities, disasters and human-induced hazards “to ensure learning continuity and that learning competencies and objectives are met.”
The new memo specifically cited “extremely high temperatures” as among the valid grounds for class suspension or cancellation, as it can “considerably affect the conduct of classroom learning and put the learners’ health and well-being at risk.”
Incidents of students fainting or collapsing at school recently prompted Sherwin Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, to call for the return of the old school calendar and the April-May “summer vacation.”
This was also backed by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) who said the reversion to the old school calendar would avoid holding classes during the hot and dry season.
In Catanduanes, where PAGASA Virac Synoptic Station has recorded four days with heat index of 42º Celsius and above, the heat-related death of a nursing student at the Catanduanes State University has reportedly prompted the administration to consider online, instead of face-to-face, classes.
Pending an in-depth investigation into the incident, including the fact that students were allowed to hold an activity out in the open during the hot hours from 11 AM to mid-afternoon, the CatSU leadership should rethink any proposal to return to online learning.
The decision should be founded on science, not that lone incident or even the increasing cases of fainting among students which could be blamed on pre-existing illness or simply foregoing a meal or neglecting to drink water.
PAGASA has not even declared that the Philippines is under a heat wave, which according to the World Meteorological Organization occurs when the maximum temperature in five successive days is higher than the average maximum temperature by 5ºC.
Data for Virac from 1991-2020 shows that the average maximum temperature is 30.9ºC, and the average maximum temperature for April, May and June is 31.2ºC, 32.1ºC, and 32.1ºC, respectively.
During the week from April 16-22, 2023, based on figures provided by PAGASA Virac officer-in-charge Juan Pantino Jr., the average maximum temperature was 31.6ºC which is just a bit higher than last year’s 31.3º.
There were four days last week where the heat index was dangerously high: April 16 (43ºC), 18 (42ºC), 21 (44ºC) and 22 (44ºC).
But it is interesting to note that during the same period last year, the heat index was higher: April 16 (42ºC), 17 (46ºC), 18 (44ºC), 20 (42º), 21 (47ºC) and 22 (45ºC).
Clearly, what is needed at this time is for school authorities to heed the advisory of the Department of Health (DOH) with respect to heat illness caused by dehydration, too much direct exposure to the sun and excessive physical activity in hot weather.
Students should be advised to limit the amount of time spent outdoors; drink plenty of water and avoid tea, coffee, soda and alcohol; carry umbrellas or wear wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved clothing when outdoors; and schedule heavy-duty activities for the early or late in the day when it’s cooler.
Suspending face-to-face classes would be an overreaction, one that would cause a slowdown in the local economy as tricycle drivers lose passengers and businesses their clients just like during the height of the pandemic.
And how would students in far-flung areas join on-line classes when the much-trumpeted free WiFi sites of the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) are not working allegedly due to the government’s failure to pay for the VSAT service?
Can’t the younger generation literally take the heat like their hardy parents did in the 70’s and 80’s?