By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
If the government cannot ensure that distance learning will be fully accessible to all learners, a federation of teachers on Friday said that it would be best to “postpone” the scheduled school opening in August.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to postpone its planned school opening for School Year (SY) 2020-2021 on August 24 amid the continued threat of COVID-19, as well as other issues on access to education in the “new normal.”
Given the anticipated disruptions in face-to-face holding of classes and the need for social distancing, Education Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said that “distance learning will be a major component of learning delivery for the incoming school year.”
For ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio, unless the DepEd can ensure that distance learning will be fully accessible to all learners, especially to poor students, “they might as well postpone the planned school opening [instead] having a sizeable portion of your school children drop out for a year will [which will] bring bigger problems to education access and quality the following year.”
‘Paltry’ tech plan
ACT also slammed DepEd’s “paltry” technology plan which will “deprive millions of education access” amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The group warned that “millions of students will be deprived of education” if the DepEd pushes through with its Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) amid the crisis without the support of a sufficiently massive technological preparation.
For ACT, DepEd’s announced gadget procurement plan is “insubstantial compared to the humongous technological requirement for distance learning to work and become accessible to all students enrolled in public schools.”
Earlier, DepEd announced that with the “combined number of gadgets it expects to receive and plans to buy, the agency will have about 1.1 million laptops and tablets for some 21.4 million learners and 190,574 laptops for about 900,000 public school teachers.”
Basilio said that this is like “plugging a dam breach with a cork,” noting that DepEd’s “technological capacity building plan will push more students to drop out from school than help them stay.” This plan, he claimed, is “essentially, this is foregoing the agency’s mandate to provide free and accessible public education.”
Given this, Basilio called on DepEd to make a “realistic appraisal” of the computer access of families of public school children, especially in the time of a pandemic. He added that teachers “very well know that very few public school students have their own computer units [and] a great majority has no computers at home and only rely on computer shops for school requirements.”
ACT added that most households who have computers, on the other hand, use these for the parents’ work. “The student’s lack of access to computers and the internet is the most serious roadblock to distance learning amid the pandemic,” he said. “Even teachers themselves do not know how their own children can cope with distance education when they have to use their laptops for teaching [so] you can only imagine the problem faced by families with two or more children who are studying,” he added.
The group also criticized the “sorely insufficient projection” of DepEd for computer provision for teachers, saying that the paltry target is not consistent to its claim that it recognizes its responsibility to provide teachers with necessary equipment required in teachers’ disposal of duty.
“The agency should not be lax with its survey findings that a supposed 87 percent of teachers have laptops and desktops,” Basilio said. “This does not represent readiness to conduct online classes as many teachers are complaining that their personal laptops are old, outdated, and cannot support online application,” he added.
During a recent Senate Hearing, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said that a survey done by the agency showed that 687,911 out of 788,000 teacher respondents have “laptops, desktops, and cellphones.” Given this, she noted that teachers can contact their students through online platforms for learning continuity amid the COVID-19 crisis.
For ACT, the result of the survey “might not be accurate” as many teachers claimed that “were not included in the survey.” ACT further noted that the result did not correspond to the survey done by the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association (QCPSTA) among its teachers which showed that “19.4% has no access to laptop or desktop computers.”
“It is somewhat suspect that the national rate on teachers’ access to computers, which should have included the poorest and remotest of areas, is even higher than the same of the second richest city in the National Capital Region,” Basilio ended.