Youth group seeks academic freeze until January 2021

A youth organization is urging the palace to intervene and issue an executive order initiating an academic freeze until January next year to give the government ample time in preparing for the shift to a flexible mode of learning as COVID-19 cases in the country continue to rise.

Activist group Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) held a protest action at the main office of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) on Monday to amplify their call for an academic freeze for key reforms to be made, including the increase of capacities for distance learning of both students and teachers.

"All it takes is for Duterte to sign his name once, and millions of students and their parents will be alleviated from the burden of online classes until January," SPARK spokesperson John Lazaro said.

According to the group, the President should "walk the talk" as he had previously stated in his speeches, including in his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA), that he would support the postponing of classes until a COVID-19 vaccine is found.

In their protest action on Monday, activists wearing masks of President Duterte, Education Secretary Leonor Briones, and CHED Chairman Prospero De Vera III led a "pabitin" or hanging game with smartphones, laptops, internet connection, as well as COVID-19 symbols.

The group explained that the skit aims to depict the inaccessibility of education under the present state as students are more likely to be infected than attain quality education under their blended learning scheme.

SPARK also downplayed the resetting of the resumption of classes in public schools to October by the DepEd, saying that the two-month adjustment will not be sufficient to close the "glaring gaps of the digital divide."  

Lazaro added that even before the pandemic, the education sector was already in crisis as it was suffering from sweeping deregulation, commercialization, and poor quality. 

"The pandemic did not only expose the crisis but was exacerbated further by the insistence of the Department of Education (DepEd) and CHED to pursue online classes despite severe handicaps in our information technology infrastructure and telecommunication industry," he said.