By Armando Fenequito Jr.
DAVAO CITY — Former House Speaker and Davao del Norte 1st District Rep. Pantaleon D. Alvarez has urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider face-to-face classes in areas with no Internet signal and low-risk for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
“Earlier this month, DepEd confirmed that no face-to-face classes will be held for the coming school year, with the standard curriculum converted to a distance learning program. 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,” he said.
Alvarez said the online and broadcast materials proposed by DepEd may be helpful, but these are not easily available for many teachers, students, and families.
” 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 said.
He said given the sudden shift to the digital age, the government’s capacity, as well as those of teachers and students in far-flung areas, require sufficient time and experience to catch up and familiarize themselves with the new technological tools.
“Sadly, many of our schools, our teachers, and our students in the peripheries have not even seen, or held, digital gadgets, nor do they have much experience with the Internet,” he said.
Alvarez said even if the DepEd adopted distance learning due to the risk of face-to-face classes, there is a need to balance these aspirations with on the ground realities.
” Some areas are not considered high risk when it comes to the spread of COVID-19. Also, some areas lack digital gadgets and or have limited capacity, on the part of end users, to utilize modern learning tools,” he said.
He said 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 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.
He said the one-size-fits-all strategy will not work since some prescriptions for action, indeed, may be effective in Metro-Manila and, probably, highly urbanized cities. But the same prescription will fail when applied to neglected peripheries of the country.
“We have to be mindful of this objective reality,” he said.
He said COVID-19 is a real threat to the education and development of students, most especially the poor and marginalized.
“Their education, which is essential for holistic personal development and expanded opportunities later on in life, must also be protected,” he said.
Alvarez said they will not adopt an area-specific solution to the problems that the country is presently facing. A more promising future for the students will tragically be part of COVID-19’s collateral damage.
” We cannot, and must not, allow this to happen. 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 offices, along with the Local Government Unit concerned, deem it feasible and practical,” he said.
He added that 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 in using these devices.
A traditional classroom setup may be the better option considering the capacity of the end-users involved.
“A nuanced approach, instead of a one-size-fits-all policy, will help us better realize our collective objective. No student should be left behind,” he said.