Gatchalian urges increased gov't support for smaller schools amid learning transition

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is seeking increased government support for small and medium-sized private universities transitioning to flexible learning amid the ongoing pandemic.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

 In a Senate panel hearing, Gatchalian stated these smaller institutions have limited financial capacity as with technical expertise to install online and flexible learning systems, which could only be detrimental to the continued learning of their students.

“I found out that an online system is very expensive. It’s not cheap,” Gatchalian said during the hearing, citing the experience of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Valenzuela, which recently subscribed to an application to deliver full online learning.

“Smaller universities may have a difficult time in acquiring an online system. My fear is if we don’t help the small, medium private universities and more than 50 percent of the population in our universities will be affected,” he added.

Under the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Senate Bill No. 1564) or Bayanihan 2.0, P3 billion is allocated to create “smart” campuses in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs). This entails investments in information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure, acquisition of learning management systems, and other equipment to implement flexible learning.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED), however, seeks to expand the coverage of this budget so that small private universities will also be covered.

To help learning institutions affected by lockdown measures, Bayanihan 2.0 also seeks to develop a loan program by appropriate government financial institutions (GFIs) to help academic institutions prepare for the implementation of blended learning.

For Gatchalian, the challenges hounding the education sector add urgency to enacting Bayanihan 2.0, which will finally make much-needed funding available for academic institutions ahead of the school year’s opening.

According to CHED Chairman Prospero De Vera III, there are more than 1,000 small private universities catering to around 525,000 students nationwide.

De Vera explained that there are more students enrolled in private higher education institutions (HEIs) compared to public tertiary institutions.

Based on CHED data, there are 1,833,170 students (53.87 percent) enrolled in private HEIs while 1,575,645 (46.22 percent) are enrolled in public institutions.

The CHED chairman said that while free software could be used to develop learning management systems, small private universities tend to have a shortage in hardware and manpower for these systems.