By Ellson Quismorio
Going against the grain, Davao del Norte 1st district Representative and former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insisted Wednesday that face-to-face classes for students should still be considered for areas with low risk of COVID-19 infections and/or limited Internet access.
“A nuanced, and area-specific approach, is the best and realistic way forward…A one-size fits all strategy will not work,” Alvarez, secretary-general of ruling party Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan, said in a statement.
The Department of Education (DepEd) has set the reopening of classes, particularly for school year 2020-21, on August 24. But because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the standard curriculum will be converted to a distance learning program, with emphasis on online classes and other “blended” learning methods.
“This was in compliance with the directive of President Duterte to postpone the conduct of conventional classes until the public health crisis is decisively under control,” Alvarez himself noted.
“Make no mistake about it, the threat of COVID-19 is real, but so is the threat to the education and development of our students, most especially the poor and marginalized. Their education, which is essential for a holistic personal development and expanded opportunities later on in life, must also be protected,” he argued.
“If we do not adopt an area-specific solution to the problems that we presently face, a more promising future for our students will tragically be part of COVID-19’s collateral damage,” added Alvarez.
“Areas with no cases of COVID-19 should consider regular classes. Areas with little to no background when it comes to the digital era should learn about these modern tools, build capacities with the help and support from the government (and the private sector) and gradually – but steadily – shift to the digital age. In the meantime, however, necessity requires us to consider context and be open to the fact that traditional classes may be the more effective and practical option for certain areas of our country,” he said.
Alvarez said that while DepEd’s proposed use of online and broadcast materials by may be helpful, they are not easily available for many teachers, students, and families. He said such prescriptions for action “may be effective in Metro-Manila and, probably, highly urbanized cities.”
“After all, not everyone has the means to purchase a laptop, a tablet, and other digital devices. Not everyone has access to – or can afford – internet connection. As a matter of fact, there are Filipino families who do not even have radios or televisions at home. This is the reality we cannot ignore.”
He noted that while access to these gadgets is one thing, the teachers and students’ familiarization of it is another problem that would need time to fix.
“Yes, some areas must adopt a distance learning program given the risk of face-to-face classes. Yes, we have to continue shifting to the digital age as a necessity. However, we have to balance these aspirations with on the ground realities,” he said.
“Therefore, let us convince our government that conventional classes be considered for COVID-19 low-risk areas should the local DepEd and Department of Health (DOH) offices, along with the Local Government Unit concerned, deem it feasible and practical.
“Further, areas with little to no background when it comes to laptops, tablets, and the internet should be introduced to these tools now and develop their skills for using these devices. However, in the meantime, a traditional classroom setup may be the better option considering the capacity of the end users involved,” Alvarez said.
COVID-19 is a highly-contagious disease that has claimed over 1,100 lives in the Philippines so far. More than 26,000 have been infected locally, with the DOH confirming “multiple community transmissions” of the virus.