By TONYO CRUZ
Is Secretary Leonor Briones accepting or chickening out of the challenge thrown at her by ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro to “demonstrate” how so-called “blended learning” would be done?
“We challenge Secretary Briones to demonstrate the different learning modalities in less fortunate areas herself so that the education department will see how their policies would be implemented on the ground and see the consequences on quality and accessibility of education,” said Castro, a veteran and multi-awarded teacher-slash-trade unions.
The chief of the Department of Education has been mum about it, but more and more people are asking her to do it. There’s a growing public interest in DepEd’s plans from enrolment to graduation of the next batch of pupils and students, especially from public schools.
Castro, who is also assistant minority leader in the House, underscores this even further by demanding that Briones conduct the “teaching demo” in far-flung, less fortunate areas of the country.
We’ve seen the photos circulating in social media, with teachers camping out at hills and ridges overnight, because those were the only places they could get a mobile data signal.
Teachers are justifiably worried, anxious and — of course — angry. As Castro puts it, opening classes in August in the face of the implementation of “blended learning without adequate facilities, materials, personnel and support for the personnel and students will ultimately sacrifice accessibility and quality education.”
Enrolment thus far is down 52 percent compared to last year, illustrating the pervading digital divide in the country which could disenfranchise millions of children from public education.
Castro’s strong warning resonates to parents nationwide and to the kid who cried as he tried to enrol via Pisonet: “Ang mababang enrollment rate mula noong magbukas ito tatlong linggo na ang nakakalilipas ay senyales dapat sa DepEd na maraming mag-aaral ang nahihirapan at mahihirapan kapag ipilit ang blended learning mode lalo na para sa mga pinaka mahihirap na pamiliya.”
Technology expert Wilson Chua revealed Thursday in a Facebook post that the internet infrastructure is “worse than I thought”.
Chua’s graph divided schools into four quadrants in terms of proximity to cellular towers and the quality of connections that they could get.
As of now, Chua’s graph shows only a small portion of the nation’s schools are near cell towers and could get good connection. Most schools could only get poor connection, even if some are near cell towers.
A huge portion of schools could connect to cell towers, but “the bandwidth they get will likely be below broadband standard of 256 kbps,” said Chua.
Chua, who heads Project BASS that actively seeks out volunteers to use their app, suggests that schools obtain external antennas, and for telcos to both add more towers and to increase bandwidth. He adds that for those in faraway places, the solution could be TV whitespace or satellite internet.
Chua used data sourced from ProjectBASS.org (Bandwidth and Signal Statistics) whose volunteers measure the bandwidth at their location. He invites everyone to be volunteer to continuously find out the status of our broadband access.
Meanwhile, both the National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Information and Communication Technology are generally quiet. They are not contributing anything useful to the discussions on how to mount “blended learning”, and how they would use the power of the state to improve and expand across the archipelago. They are more interested in shutting down a TV network, and in spending hundreds of millions in tax money for intelligence and surveillance.
Going back to the “teaching demo challenge,” Briones has a lot to show to teachers, parents, kids and the rest of nation who are expecting the delivery of accessible and quality education.
We hope Briones accepts the challenge. It should be telecast. She should not have any assistant. She should use replicate the situation of teachers: use only the most basic devices, avail of GOSURF or GIGASURF, have children who have to share those same devices and connection with them, have household chores to do, and have partners at home to tend to as well. She should take on each and every new method the DepEd is forcing on the nation’s teachers and students.
Teacher demos should also have students, so there should be a remote class of students. Kabataan Partylist, and student groups like Anakbayan and the League of Filipino Students, the Lumad students, and others would be interested to take part in this demo.
The nation’s teachers are waiting. So are parents and students. The teaching demo is usually a “baptism of fire” for new mentors, and also for those introducing new methods in teaching.
Briones who arrogantly says everything the DepEd wants could magically be done by teachers and students has every obligation to show exactly how easy it ought to be done in this pandemic, and with the limited resources and access of both students and teachers.
Would Briones do take the “teaching demo challenge”? More importantly, can she do it?