"Online learning is going to be a critical and indispensable component of education."
Just how prepared is the Department of Education for the opening of the new school year on August 24?
Not so well, it would seem, with senators expressing grave concern that DepEd has fallen far short in several key areas: ICT-based teaching, self-learning modules, and access by students to the internet, television and radio.
During the recent hearing conducted by the Senate basic education committee, the lawmakers learned from DepEd officials that the agency has been preparing for blended learning, which is a combination of online distance learning and in-person delivery of learning materials to the homes of the learners. Teaching would also involve the use of radio and television for students who do not have access to a computer or the internet.
But it turns out that only 40 percent of teachers have been trained, the printing of educational materials would take 30 to 60 days, and it is not clear where DepEd would get the budget for connectivity and gadgets. The chairman of the committee described these challenges as "quite staggering."
A DepEd Undersecretary, however, said the agency aims to complete the training of all teachers by July.
Meanwhile, another senator asked DepEd if it had already implemented a mapping system to determine which learning modality would be appropriate for different areas in the country.
The DepEd official told the lawmakers that the “exact map is still a work in progress. Part of what we’re doing now is to gather information... We will have a clear picture before the school year opens."
But a senator interjected: "Aren’t we supposed to have this already? Because the training for teachers should be targeted to the area. For example, in Bukidnon or Cordillera where it is hard to access stable internet signal, why would we train teachers there for online teaching when we know that it’s hard to access signal in that part of the country?"
Another DepEd Undersecretary admitted that while DepEd has information on which of its schools have electricity, internet connectivity and computer laboratories, it has yet to collate data on which students have access to the internet or radios. He gave assurances, however, that DepEd would have the data this month.
Are the modules to be used in different learning modalities now in place? And has DepEd already procured laptops and other needed gadgets for teachers?
It appears that DepEd has yet to print self-learning modules for students who do not have access to the internet. Apart from this, the agency cannot afford the procurement of laptops and gadgets for all of its teachers.
According to the DepEd official, the agency is instead coordinating with local government units which have committed to donate laptops and other gadgets for the use of both teachers and learners.
Despite the concerns raised during the hearing, the Education Committee members said they fully support DepEd’s effort to implement distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the committee would regularly monitor the implementation of Deped’s distance learning initiative.
Online learning is going to be a critical and indispensable component of education in this country under the new normal, as pointed out to me recently by IT entrepreneur Ceazar Cortez Fradejas, founder of Florence.com.ph Corporation. We think so too.
We have no doubt that Education Secretary Leonor Briones is competent to lead the department in finding the right mix of learning modalities in the Covid-19 period and beyond. She needs all the help she can get from this government—and the private sector—to institute the reforms that will implement the constitutional mandate of education for all.
Ganging up on ABS-CBN
What the ongoing hearings by the House Committee on Legislative Franchises on the renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise demonstrate very clearly is that there is an organized effort to try to bring the media conglomerate to its knees by again raising false issues that have already been sufficiently answered in the past by the concerned agencies.
What are these issues?
The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) has confirmed that the company has religiously settled all of its tax obligations.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ruled that Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) are legal and do not indicate foreign ownership of the media conglomerate.
The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has certified that the company has complied with labor standards.
And the Department of Justice has settled the debate on the citizenship of ABS-CBN chairman emeritus Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III by saying that he is a Filipino by birth, having been born to Filipino parents.
Solita Monsod, in one of her recent columns in another broadsheet, called the House hearings nothing more than a "farce." We agree wholeheartedly.
The ongoing extended hearings offer certain legislators a convenient platform to grandstand and try to score political points in aid of reelection. Or perhaps their overzealousness in raising one false issue after another is simply calculated to let them get a piece of the action.
The key issue here is press freedom. Shutting down a media firm that has been critical of the policies of the current dispensation, especially by resorting to thuggery and crude attempts to bamboozle and hector resource persons in the hearing, smacks of plain and simple suppression of press freedom.