The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) supports the Department of Education’s (DepEd) position given on 26 April 2023 reminding schools that they can opt into blended and alternative delivery modes (ADM) of learning as a means to protect students from natural disasters and extreme climate conditions that threaten the health and well-being of children when attending classes in person.
In a memo reiterating DepEd Order No. 037, series of 2022, or the “Guidelines on the Cancellation or Suspension of Classes and Work in Schools in the Event of Natural Disasters, Power Outages/Power Interruptions, and Other Calamities,” DepEd emphasized to school heads and directors that extremely high temperatures fall within the parameters of immediately cancelling classes or transitioning to ADM.
Looking at links between blended learning and the heat impact of climate change, it must be noted that studies conducted as early as 2019 by the International Labor Organization had foreseen that extreme temperatures due to climate change would become a safety hazard for people living in climate change-vulnerable countries , but still, DepEd endorsed the return to face-to-face classes–mandatory for public schools, optional for private–citing the educational and socio-emotional benefits of direct interactions among learners, made possible as the country was gradually recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic in the final quarter of 2022 .
Displaying commendable responsiveness and adaptiveness, DepEd adjusted their perspective on blended learning arrangements following reports of students experiencing heat-related health issues, such as the case in Laguna during the last week of March, when dozens of students fainted due to heat exhaustion as they stayed outdoors for their school’s fire and earthquake drills.
As the country’s independent national human rights institution, CHR supports DepEd’s decision to pursue blended and ADM learning to promote a safe learning environment for children pursuant to the Convention on the Rights of a Child, and a safe working environment for faculty and staff in line with international labor standards, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Convention of 1981.
Further, CHR appreciates how DepEd left this decision at the discretion of school heads, acknowledging that each school may have different experiences and capacities in dealing with the dry season heat. Respecting the context of each school helps these learning institutions maximize students’ access to their right to education.
However, CHR must remind DepEd that there are persisting gaps in the distance learning component of blended learning that should be addressed as schools pursue this option. Distance learning, as discussed in CHR’s ‘Situation Report on the Right to Access to Education of Children amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic,’  was generally disadvantageous for poor students. They faced difficulties in affording decent-performance gadgets, access to stable internet, and other resources for online learning. Their home environments were barely conducive for attending online classes and accomplishing school work. And in working to make ends meet, their family members could not afford to supervise and provide supplementary guidance and lessons in remote learning setups.
In pursuit of social justice and equality, DepEd and its development partners must resume and strengthen their assistance and programs for low-income families and marginalized groups. This shall help alleviate multidimensional issues to prevent the widening of social inequalities, which favor those with the economic means to adapt to mixed modes of learning.
With these concerns addressed, blended learning can sufficiently lighten the load of students, families, and teachers as DepEd works on long-term solutions that could better protect students from the impacts of climate change. CHR suggests that DepEd heed the recommendations of several teachers’ organizations asking for the construction of climate-resilient classrooms and the improvement of classroom-learner and teacher-student ratios to create better learning and working environments for all people engaging in face-to-face learning sessions.
CHR remains vigilant and cooperative in making sure that no child or student is left behind as the country adopts to technological innovations and explores new learning setups in light of climate change. The primacy of children’s rights, including their access to quality education, must hold true regardless of their mode of learning. ###