The pandemic and national public health emergency provide us an opportunity to make education relevant in solving our main problem today. But instead the government seems intent on giving more problems for students, teachers, and parents.
There’s no debate that education is too important to be delayed or postponed. But could there be a better way to resume education amid the pandemic than what the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education have so far unveiled?
To win wholehearted support from our people, education at this time must nationalist, scientific, mass-oriented, and share common goals: Raise our people’s awareness on the coronavirus, mobilize our intellectual power to better understanding and find scientific solutions to the pandemic, and document and mitigate the people’s suffering since March.
In short, education must be relevant to us right now and find solutions to the problems we face.
Yes, we should reopen our state universities and colleges to conduct research on the pandemic and its continued spread around the country, and to help the nation, especially health care workers, better understand it using various disciplinary perspectives. SUCs with medicine and scientific programs, as well as SUC training hospitals and laboratories, should take the lead on this.
If the government treats the response to the pandemic as a war, then by all means it should mobilize the educational system around this war effort. There’s a lot tertiary schools could contribute.
SUCs have tried on their own to respond to the pandemic since March and thus remarkably responded to the needs of our people at this time – face masks and face shields for frontliners, mass production of alcohol, disinfectants and soap, data gathering and data modelling of the pandemic’s spread, and coronavirus treatment and testing.
Engineering schools could work with science schools on studying how to safely resume public mass transportation and work in factories and offices. Those in the humanities and social sciences could document what has happened since March, memorialize and render the biographies of the fallen health care workers, recommend proper and sound economic, political, and social policies for government.
Computer science and information technology schools could focus on automation, digitalization, Internet privacy and security, and other relevant areas, and making studies and recommendations on how to improve Internet access around the country as many economic activities are brought online.
All college-level students could be mobilized to render basic health, literacy, and numeracy education at the basic levels in their immediate vicinity. They could be part of the frontlines of coronavirus-related information dissemination, especially on the need for testing, treatment, and tracing.
Right now, many SUCs and even some public elementary and high schools have been repurposed as quarantine areas. When vaccines finally arrive, the schools could complement hospitals and the health care system as the areas where mass vaccinations could be done in an orderly and safe fashion.
The possibilities are endless, but unfortunately the DepEd and CHED have not been attentive to the nation’s problems and have instead created more and new problems for students, teachers, and parents who are already bearing the brunt of the pandemic and especially the government’s dismal response to the pandemic.
We have always believed that education is the “great equalizer” but under the plans of DepEd and CHED, only the privileged students and the privileged teachers can learn or teach. Both agencies are silent on the distinct possibility that the poorest students and teachers would be left behind in the mad rush of Liling Briones and Popoy de Vera to reopen classes under the so-called blended or online learning modes of learning.
That’s already a non-starter for us. No student or teacher should be left behind. We cannot in conscience support an educational system that systematically disenfranchises the poor and perpetuates the poor’s marginalization even in education.
DepEd and CHED seem to be more worried about the loss of revenues of schools, especially private schools, so much so that they would pressure the entire nation to resume schooling under the guise of preventing any disruption to education. But the pandemic continues to spread and get worse. Its effects are brutal to families of students and teachers, and cannot be denied.
What the DepEd and CHED could have done is to rethink education and education financing amid the pandemic, with a single-minded focus on what the students teachers, and parents are facing. Even granting for the sake of argument that our Third World population could be ready for First World education, the DepEd and CHED have neither asked nor provided First World funding for the online requirements of our Third World population.
Right now, only the more privileged schools, teachers, students, and parents are ready for school reopening. They are the same ones shielded from joblessness, lack of access to health care, and decent housing that make the effects of the pandemic even worse. The families of health care workers, jeepney drivers, laid-off workers, the under-employed, stranded OFWs, small and medium-scale entrepreneurs, informal economy workers, and others who look up to education for redemption now find education making them carry new and heavier burdens and, worse, unable to provide solutions to the problems we face.
There’s still time for the government to change its mind on school reopening. But it would take lots of political will and extraordinary vision capable of uniting our people and mobilizing resources. Reorienting the educational system around the goals of helping the country survive and prevail over the pandemic would require the state to increase funding for SUCs and public elementary and high schools, and to provide the necessary bailouts for private counterparts. Hundreds of billions of pesos might be needed for the next few months, but I’d like to think that would be a wise investment for the present and the future.
Let’s make education work for us, not against us.