"There are numerous other factors."
We find it unfortunate that the Department of Education is now being blamed for the rise in suicides among youths supposedly due to its move to implement distance learning following the imposition by the government of health and safety protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DepEd has issued an official statement in the wake of allegations by a youth group that the agency pushed through with distance learning despite the legitimate concerns against it as early as June. Another group said that DepEd has “proven itself once again that they act deaf to the outcries of the students and teachers” and that suicide incidents “could have been prevented” had it heeded the students’ calls months before the opening of classes.
The agency recently released a statement to this effect that we’d like to quote at length: “The Department of Education (DepEd) is saddened to learn about the deaths of teachers and learners in these difficult times. We offer our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and loved ones of our DepEd family members. Our field offices are in contact with the grieving families to provide urgent relief and assistance.
“We would like to request the public to respect the families’ privacy and avoid speculating on the cause of death.
“Suicide is a sensitive and complex issue. We would like to appeal to everyone to stop directly connecting such to modules or distance learning. We have received police blotters, incident reports, statements of families, and initial investigation of the cases, and none of them referred to distance learning as the primary cause.
“We caution the public against groups and individuals who use these unfortunate events to discredit the efforts of the Department.
“We will continue to reach out to our teachers, staff, and learners to provide them with vital mental health and psychosocial services.
“We likewise request everyone to stay in touch and stay connected to our loved ones during these challenging times.
“Together, we shall overcome.”
The two youth groups may simply be barking up the wrong tree. Mental health experts are saying that suicide is a very complicated matter and cannot be attributed to a single reason but rather multiple factors. DepEd has been very careful in commenting on suicide reports since studies have shown that these reports tend to have a serious effect on the public consciousness by encouraging others to entertain suicidal thoughts due to depression.
In fact, mental health has been a priority of DepEd before the opening of classes, with mental and psychosocial interventions conducted with parents, teachers and learners because of the effects of the public health crisis. Psychological well-being was the first program initiated by DepEd way before the opening of classes in recognition of its importance at this critical juncture.
The DepEd office in Bicol has actually requested Education Secretary Leonor Briones to provide psychiatric assistance to students in the region as many could fall victim to anxiety and depression due to the “sudden and major shift” in academic learning.
“Depression and emotional breakdowns among learners and parents are likely to occur in the middle of this ongoing health crisis because many students in government schools belong to poor families,” the field office said.
Briones, however, clarified that online learning is not the only method her department has been promoting. She said they had also proposed a mixed or modular approach which uses printed material to be distributed to students in communities.
“Education is for all. Online learning is not the primary consideration of the Education Department. To those who cannot afford gadgets and computers, we have another mode of learning that uses printed materials,” Briones added.
The Education Secretary had also warned school administrators and teachers not to intimidate students with nearly “impossible” requirements such as having computers or tablets at home.
In School Year 2019-2020, enrollment in basic education in the country reached 27.7 million. As of July this year, enrollment for SY2020-2021, the number of enrollees in basic education had dropped to 20.1 million, or 76 percent of last year’s employment. But the DepEd expected the figures to reach its adjusted target of 80 percent for this year. In fact, it considers the enrollment numbers for this school year as encouraging because, despite the challenges posed by the economic impact of COVID-19, the majority of parents have decided that the education of their children must continue.
We reiterate: DepEd is on the right track in resuming classes through distance learning in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Distance learning combined with printed learning modules will lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission among students at this time and should not be blamed for anxiety and depression that sometimes lead to suicide.