Cancel classes this school year, youth group appeals

Published June 20, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Merlina Hernando-Malipot

As Filipino families continue to weather the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, a youth group urged the government to consider cancelling all classes this school year and move school opening to next year.

SPARK - Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan logo via Facebook
SPARK – Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (FACEBOOK / MANILA BULLETIN)

The Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK), in a statement, said implementing an academic freeze is needed as the country grapples with COVID-19.

“This remains the most humane option which considers the right of all students to a quality and accessible education without sacrificing teachers and workers’ livelihoods and students’ health,” the group said.

“When we say academic freeze, it means that there should be no classes at all – whether online or offline – and that the children should just stay at home and look for other means to learn outside formal schooling,” John Lazaro of SPARK told the Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.

SPARK, with at least 1,000 members from various schools nationwide, maintained that classes – in any form – should not be conducted this year until the government has addressed concerns related to the pandemic. “We don’t think it is safe to push through with the school opening given the current situation, there needs to be more time for preparation,” Lazaro said.

With the public health crisis, SPARK said that the SY 2020-2021 should be skipped or cancelled and the school opening should be moved to next year.

“We believe that there should be no classes conducted this school year to ensure the safety of the students and their parents as well,” he added.

Record-breaking dropouts feared

SPARK said that the government – particularly the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – should brace for a “record-breaking” drop-out rates for the upcoming academic year.

Citing data from DepEd as of June 13, SPARK noted that there were 10.5 million students that have enrolled online so far. “The first week of enrollment had 6.3 million, while the second week had just 4.2 million,” the group said.

“Just a year prior, the enrollment figures of DepEd were 27.2 million total students – this is a 44% decrease in the number of enrollees in the coming academic year,” it added.

For SPARK, this drop in enrollment numbers is a “clear manifestation” of the digital divide brought about by the pandemic.

“Many students have struggled in the past months to even get a stable Internet connection to participate in online classes,” the group said.

SPARK also argued that the move toward online enrollment is a continuation of the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHED’s) insistence on blended learning “even at the expense of excluding those without the necessary material means.”

“The drop in enrollment numbers will only be the tip of the iceberg as time goes on, as sustaining the participation and engagement of students in online classes will prove to be another hurdle for educators,” SPARK warned. “The difficulties in adjustment still remain for many students and teachers, especially those in the basic education levels who are not equipped technologically and practically speaking for this shift to online modes of learning,” it added.

As education agencies push for school opening, SPARK cautioned that without the necessary technological infrastructure to ensure that stable internet connection and devices is accessible for all, the insistence on online learning will “exclude a large number of students and teachers who lack the privilege of technology and stable Internet in this time of pandemic and economic crisis.”

SPARK said that the quality of education that students will receive will be affected “as they struggle to learn new platforms while facing existing struggles with access to the internet and the necessary devices for online classes.”

The group also warned that even those who have managed to enroll virtually “may drop out due to the inferior quality of education received in addition to struggles faced in adjusting to the vastly limited and impersonal form of online education as compared with face-to-face classes.”

Given all these, SPARK noted that an academic freeze should be taken into consideration while sustaining teachers and workers’ wages until mass testing is conducted at an adequate capacity to resume face-to-face classes safely.

“Without mass testing, face-to-face classes are potentially deadly,” SPARK said. “Meanwhile, with a complete shift to online modes of education, the digital divide revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen the quality of education for a vast majority of students who are not accustomed to online modes of learning,” it added.

Online learning is not the only option

Meanwhile, DepEd maintained that online learning is not the only option this coming school year. Given that face-to-face classes are not allowed, the agency is pursuing various distance learning delivery modalities to cater to the needs and capacities of learners and teachers.

Currently, DepEd is preparing printed modules for those without Internet connectivity or gadgets at home and these will also be complemented with educational television programs and radio-based instruction.