Anti-poor plan on the education system
Devoid of sympathy and preparation. This was what millions of parents and thousands of teachers accuse Rodrigo Duterte and his education officials with regards to the plan of enforced “distance learning” for the coming schoolyear. “The online, modular, television, radio and laptop methods are inappropriate since families’ conditions vary,” a mother and member of the Amihan, an organization of peasant women, said. “They no more money for buying food, what more for buying gadgets,” the group said. In many rural areas, many have no access to the internet and people have no gadgets. Some do not even own a television or radio. There are also places with no electricity.
Under the Department of Education’s distance learning, classes will be held without opening schools. This was after Duterte declared that there will be no face-to-face classes in all areas at all levels until a vaccine becomes available. Parents can supposedly pick from three options—the modular, online and television/radio-based instuction. In the modular distance learning, parents pick up learning instructions from schools, either in digital or printed form, which the children will then learn on their own. For online classes, all these will be done through the internet, and the third option will have children learning their lessons from the television or radio. In all three options, mothers or a family member will be obligated to stay at home to act as teacher. Teachers, on the other hand, will take on the responsibility of preparing the materials, buying the needed gadgets and paying for the needed internet services.
Joy, a contractual worker with two school-age children, is feeling the pressure. She only has one phone which she uses in her work as a doctor’s assistant. She is among those who are under a no-work, no-pay scheme, and earns only P15,000/month. She is thinking of picking the modular type of instruction but worry that her children will not learn anything without a teacher since she is at work for most of the day.
Teachers are also stressed. A group of teachers in Maco Valley, Davao de Oro was forced to set up camp along the highway for a DepEd webinar since it was the only area where they could pick up internet signals. Even students feel the pressure. A 19-year old student committed suicide as he was extremely stressed on where to find money for his cellphone services.
Anti-poor and a sham
Distance learning pushes many children and youth to drop out of school. Estimates put that only 55% or 15.2 million of the 27.7 who enrolled in 2019 will enrol this year. Enlistment already slowed down from 6.3 million during the first week of June to 4.2 million in the second week. From this number, only 319,000 enrolled in private schools or a mere 7.6% out of the 4.2 million private students last year. Private enrolment will probably not reach a million this year.
There are studies which say that the number of cellphones exceed the number of Filipinos (117 million for 110 people.) But these are concentrated in urban areas, and half of which are not internet-capable. Majority of internet users (80%) are subscribed to the cheapest, intermittent and slowest connection. The cheapest student internet service package is P50 for 3 days. Each student will then need either a laptop (P18,000) or an internet-capable cellphone (P2,500).
Overall, minimun costs for distance learning can reach P110.8 billion for a period of three months. A minimum of P69.25 billion is needed so students can each have access to a gadget. The cheapest internet services will cost at least P41.55 billion. This does not include teachers’ needs such as laptops and internet allowance set at P1,500/month. Cellphone and internet companies are set to make a killing. If parents do not shell out for these gadgets and services, local governments, like Pasig City, will do the purchasing using public funds. If the said private companies give-away their products and services, all their “donations” will be tax-deductible.
On the other hand, the DepEd estimates that it will take only P37 billion to put into place the basic health measures. Combined with mass testing of teachers (at the most P6.9 billion for three months) and other adjustments to class size, duration and frequency, opening of schools and face-to-face interaction is more advantageous and cost-effective, especially in areas where Covid-19 is not prevalent.
Nevertheless, these health measures should be accompanied with extensive reforms to resolve decades-old problems of the educational system. Social distancing is difficult to implement in schools with acute shortages of classrooms, chairs and desks. In 2019, the DepEd admitted a 800,000 classroom shortage. Toilets, water and other sanitation facilities are also severely lacking.
There are not enough teachers, nurses and other school personnel who can go on rotation if necessary. The DepEd plans to add only 10,000 teachers for 2020, even though 81,000 teachers have been needed since 2018.
In general, 30 million students, teachers and other school employees in elementary and high schools are affected by Rodrigo Duterte’s lack of sympathy and preparation. The pandemic exposed not only the regime’s inutility in addressing the needs and rights of children and the youth, but also the country’s backward and rotting educational system.