Reshaping education amidst COVID-19
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2020 - 12:00am

A few weeks ago when the President addressed the nation on COVID-19 matters affecting our country, he concluded by saying, “walang vaccine, walang eskwela… but Secretary Briones is insisting that there should be an alternative there and she has a very good program for that, parang teleconferencing.”

But the President did not end there.  He continued by saying, “How – the technology is good. I do not know if we are ready for that. Meaning to say, if we have enough of those na gamitin para sa the whole of the Philippines.  We are talking of students, it is millions. Mayroon ba siya? (referring to Secretary Briones) But if she has or if we can afford it, we’ll buy it and she can proceed with her novel idea of how the children can continue with their education.”

At this point, the Department of Education (DepEd) has not made itself clear about the plans for public and private education nor has the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).  The only lead we have is that public schools will open on August 24.

It is already June. The children have been cooped up inside their homes for almost four months.  Isn’t it crucial for some form of education to take place?  Well, if not in school (for obvious reasons), then, at home.

Aside from thinking of education as essential for a country’s growth and development, we need to also look at it for the child’s future. The longer it takes for education to continue, the more chances for the child to drop out of school. His mind will easily be taken over by the virtual world of games. It may even wander off to juvenile delinquency. He will be disinterested and unmotivated to continue education, becoming detrimental to himself, to his family and to the society.

Yes, the role of the parent is critical during these times but so is the responsibility of government over its young citizens. Let us not forget Presidential Decree No. 603, The Child and the Youth Welfare Code where Article 1 states: The Child is one of the most important assets of the nation. Every effort should be exerted to promote his welfare and enhance his opportunities for a useful and happy life… The natural right and duty of parents in the rearing of the child for civic efficiency should receive the aid and support of the government. Article 3, The Rights of the Child states: Every child has the right to an education commensurate with his abilities and to the development of his skills for the improvement of his capacity for service to himself and to his fellowmen.  So, the point is, education is a human right. And all the Filipino children have the right to it. It should not stop. Government must ensure that it continues especially during this pandemic where their mental health becomes an issue.

During this COVID-19 crisis, many parents have been laid off. Businesses have closed down. The unemployment rate continues to increase. Life is hard.  How will education continue?

Education’s new normal is more than just creating a safe environment for the students and teachers. It is about being efficient in the use of technology. It is about finding the best learning platform for students to use. It is about addressing the educational needs unique to each community. It is about funding. Creating online programs is not a joke. It involves a lot of preparation from the technology itself to the producing of materials and training of teachers.

Private schooled children are fortunate. They have different learning opportunities although quite expensive. In this day and age, online platforms will be the medium between the school and the home.  But government needs to keep an eye on the telecommunication companies. They must improve and strengthen broadband infrastructures and services. Not to mention, police the over-charging groups taking advantage of the times. DTI must also monitor computer shops on overpricing.

But this is not where the real problem lies. Out of 27.7 million K to Grade 12 students enrolled last schoolyear, 4.1 million students were enrolled in private schools while 23.5 million were enrolled in public schools. Now, think about the President’s predicament during his talk. Remember he said, “If we can afford it, we’ll buy it and she can proceed with her novel idea of how the children can continue with their education.”

A novel idea indeed for a country like ours.  Haven’t we wiped clean the government coffers assisting families during the pandemic?  Didn’t Duterte just thank the big companies in advancing their tax payments to contribute to the country’s caban?  If you have 23.5 million students in the public school, you will need that same number of tablets or laptops.  How much would an average gadget cost?  Between P8,000 – P12,000 or more. The teachers will need the same.  Even if you get a discount for bulk orders, I do not think you could get good quality costing at P5,000. Aside from this, you will need to think of internet expenses between the school and the home. Mind you, the 23.5 million students come from basic education alone. What about CHED? They have to deal with more than three million university students while TESDA has an estimated number of 200,000 students.

Who said that online education is cheap? Think twice. For the school, new structures, and infrastructures (for internet networks) must be set up aside from the COVID-19 protocol requirements mandated by government. For the home, the child will need a tablet, desktop, or laptop aside from the internet provider.  With this mode of learning, education becomes one extravagant commodity that only those with the means can afford.

During both world wars including the Japanese war, education did not stop. It continued in the rural areas. Some children in the urban areas were sent to the provinces, to the mountains or nearby monasteries. However, the poor continued education through radios and television or simply, textbooks. This is how public broadcasting stations were born. I do not know why we are not even trying it out right now. This crisis may be creating confusion and chaos in the minds of our youth.  Our children need to have some kind of routine in their lives. The government must have a voice to redirect their energies, engaging them to become functional and good citizens. We need to address their needs. Aside from the physical needs, we also need to work on their emotional-mental and intellectual needs.

The absence of recreation, physical fitness, art, culture, building values and intellectual stimulation will be very concerning. Those who live in poverty and in crowded areas without parental control or guidance (as their parents need to go to work) may be a detriment to society. They may develop destructive behaviors.

Even in the midst of a crisis we must think about the children. Government should urgently address their needs. We need to save our children.

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