The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released last Wednesday a study saying that an estimated 463 million children in the world today lack the equipment or electronic access to pursue distance learning this coming school year.
The UN estimated that 1.5 billion children worldwide were affected by school closings due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now face new problems in the new school year when distance education is planned to replace face-to face classes in schools.
Based on data gathered from about 100 countries measuring public access to the Internet, to television, and to radio, the UNICEF said the education of millions of students is bound to be disrupted, mostly in Africa and Asia.
Some 67 million students in Eastern and Southern Africa have no such Internet access, the UNICEF report said, along with 56 million in Western and Central Africa, 80 million in the Pacific and East Asia, 37 million in the Middle East and North Africa, 147 million in South Asia, and 13 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. There were no figures for the United States and Canada where access to Internet, to television, and to radio is no problem.
Many Filipino students are among the 80 million in the Pacific and East Asia facing problems this coming school year. For there are millions of homes in the country today without Internet connection, especially in the rural areas. No laptops, no ipads.
In Manila, the city government led by Mayor Isko Moreno appropriated a budget of over P1 billion to buy 11,000 laptops with WIFI devices for teachers and 136,950 tablets for students. It acquired 286,000 SIM cards to be distributed to the teachers and students. This is the very capital of the country preparing for the coming distance learning system in Philippine schools this coming school year. What of the thousands of other towns and cities in the country?
Even with the needed devices and adequate Internet connection, there are other problems in distance education. There may be no adequate workspace at home. There may be need for the student to do other work for the family. There may be no technical support when computer problems arise, the UN report said.
Because of the pandemic, the usual opening of the school year in June in the Philippines was postponed to August 24 and again to October 5. The Department of Education held a dry run of the new blended learning system in 500 schools — a mixture of Internet-based sessions, television and radio programs, and printed modules, and announced its readiness for the opening.
Deep concern, however, remains over the readiness of most of the nation’s schools as well as their students for the new system, especially in the provinces. The whole world, in fact, is concerned, as indicated by the recent UNICEF report.
We must be ready to take other moves, including further postponement of the opening of the new school year, in the face of the huge problems looming before us.