As the COVID-19 pandemic triggered restrictive quarantine measures, schools were shuttered in consonance with national government policy not to allow in-person learning that would place the health and safety of elementary and high school students at great risk. This resulted in the postponement of school reopening first to August, then to October 2020. Hence, the school year is still in its second semester when it would have been in its summer session by now.
Distance learning became the new normal in basic education. Printed learning modules that were distributed to students’ homes assumed primary importance. Wherever the use of gadgets could be enabled by adequate internet connectivity, virtual or online learning was also adopted.
Especially in the primary grades, parents – mostly mothers – became the home-school teachers. Regular teachers – especially those in the provinces and rural areas where physical proximity to learners was not a problem –ontinued to monitor the progress of their students remotely or through periodic home visits.
This new scenario of basic education engendered problems in access to distance learning modalities, adequacy of education materials, and poor state of school facilities unfit for the conduct of face-to-face classes. These surfaced from a nationwide online survey conducted in March and April this year among public school teachers by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). A total of 6,731 public school teachers from kindergarten to senior high school participated in the survey. Nearly 80 percent were from Metro Manila while 20 percent came from all the other 16 regions.
Problems with the cost of gadgets and internet connectivity were cited by 95 percent of the NCR-based respondents and 81 percent from the other regions. This stands to reason given that the public school student population is skewed heavily toward the lower income classes that were seriously affected by massive job displacement and reduced income during the pandemic. In homes shared by two or three families, multiple learners are forced to share one or two gadgets among themselves. Consequently, the pace of learning has been generally lower than expected and about a third of the student population reported having difficulties in coping with their lessons.
The Department of Education has announced that it has started the procurement process that would provide public school teachers with 30 to 35 gigabytes data allocation per month. By simply registering in DepEd Commons, they could access the load through their smartphones. This daily allocation of 1 GB is deemed as sufficient bandwidth for a teacher’s typical eight-hour workload of online webinars, downloading of learning resources and related activities.
Also on-stream is the procurement of laptops for teachers and two-way radios (walkie-talkies) for use in areas with poor cellphone connectivity. DepEd is also partnering with the Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) in providing satellite connectivity for Last Mile schools in far-flung places.
Indeed, the pandemic has opened opportunities for accelerating digital transformation in basic education that could, in the long-term, offset the difficulties brought on by distance learning.