A house leader on Sunday appealed to the Department of Education (DepEd) to postpone the resumption of classes this year instead of resorting to online instruction.
Rep. Ronnie Ong of Ang Probinsyano party-list group said virtual classrooms would only prejudice students who are not equipped with computers, tablets or phones and who cannot afford an internet connection.
“DepEd should just postpone the entire school year without any exception. Our policy should apply to all to avoid any confusion. We are unprepared for this crisis,” Ong said.
Ong, vice chairman of the House committee on rural development, said that giving schools the option to hold virtual classes also unnecessarily gives parents additional financial and emotional burden just to ensure that their children will not miss out on this school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) published May 11, 2020, “no face-to-face classes will be allowed earlier than Aug. 24, 2020; and from August 24, face-to-face learning shall only be allowed when the local risk severity grading permits, and subject to compliance with minimum health standards. Adoption of various learning delivery options such as but not limited to face-to-face, blended learnings, distance learnings, and homeschooling and other modes of delivery shall be implemented depending on the local COVID Risk Severity Classification and compliance with minimum health standards.”
Ong said online classes are disadvantageous to students in far-flung towns, many of whom do not have access to reliable e-learning gadgets like smartphones, tablets and laptops, and a stable internet connection.
“To avoid any confusion, DepEd should make an announcement this early so that parents would no longer be wasting precious resources to buy gadgets for their children. No forecast is also available if any specific area will be under low risk severity this early, and so many parents have no choice but to secure e-learning technologies out of fear of their children missing out when they themselves are already suffering financially due to this pandemic,” Ong said.
Ong added that while one year is a lot of lost opportunities to learn and advance in the educational ladder, DepEd, along with many public and private schools are completely unprepared to conduct online classes, which may aggravate the country’s declining quality of education.
Unlike First World countries where internet is fast and cheap and parents can easily afford to buy gadgets for their children, the country is really not ready yet for a full shift to e-learning systems.
Ong said that while DepEd is tweaking its system and while it is training its teachers to adapt to the challenges of the “new normal,” the government should also have its own social amelioration program for teachers both in the public and private sector.
At the same time, the ACT Teachers party-list group branded as “untrue and unrealistic” the DepEd claim that all 900,000 teachers are not required to physically report to work on June 1.
The teachers’ group reported that Isabela teachers were recently tasked to physically take DepEd’s online survey on distance learning readiness from one student’s house to another, as these households did not have access to computers or a stable internet connection.
“The irony seems to be lost on DepEd—their main means of assessing learners’ and teachers’ readiness for distance learning is an online survey only accessible to those with computers and internet connection or have access to such. So now, teachers, who themselves struggle with online work, are obliged to ensure that DepEd’s survey reaches those in rural and far-flung areas by going house-to-house. This may be a preview of what’s to come when school opens, another year of the government passing onto teachers its huge responsibilities to millions of Filipinos,” lACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.
Basilio also countered DepEd’s claims on the virtual reporting option for teachers by citing the enrollment schemes available to learners, which include in-person and online modes.
The significant number of families who are unable to go online will naturally resort to old ways of enrolling their children, and thus will require scores of teachers to physically report to schools, said ACT.
At the same time, the teachers’ group reiterated its call for mass testing before the opening of classes.
“Planning to reopen the new school year without conducting mass testing in schools could mean catastrophic results to the health of the teachers, school personnel, the students and their families,” said Assistant Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro, after Health Secretary Francisco Duque III admitted that there has been no mass testing conducted since the start of the outbreak in the Philippines.
The administration should ramp up its testing capacity and should immediately conduct mass testing as it eases measures for community quarantines and plans to reopen many establishments and institutions start, said Castro.
Teachers, parents and the students have valid reasons to be anxious with reopening schools due to the very real threat of COVID-19 and as government continues to deny the people their demand for mass testing, Castro said.
Containing the spread of the virus, flattening the curve and preventing a second wave of infections can only be done with adequate mass testing and comprehensive, pro-people health-centric response backed by scientific data, she said.
Without these vital measures, the Duterte administration is locking up its people for nothing, Castro also said.
“We are almost 70 days into the longest and one of the strictest community quarantines in the world and the Duterte administration is still debating on the definition of terms for mass testing despite numerous calls… demanding for mass testing,” Castro said.
Castro said testing should not be done solely to confirm cases but also to help isolate and stop the further spread of this virus.
The country is only able to conduct 11,000 tests per day compared to the testing rate of other countries.
“How does government expect to combat the spread of this virus without adequate testing?” she said.
The people were told early on that mass testing started April 14. But now the government says that no mass testing for COVID-19 has been done since the outbreak began, she said.
When people call for mass testing, they mean test suspected and probable cases, all close contacts of confirmed or probable cases, regular testing for frontline health care workers, and those in high risk communities and vulnerable sectors including the elderly, she said.
The Duterte administration is clearly incompetent in handling this health crisis if it is still does not understand the people’s demand for mass testing, she added.