Looming gloom
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2020 - 12:00am

If our IATF has been resolute with its health and non-pharmaceutical interventions, when it comes to school opening, we see them wavering. The optic of Secretary Duque contradicting the President was odd.

Data suggests that children are less vulnerable to COVID-19. According to the US Center for Disease Control, as of June 10, 1 to 5 percent of all coronavirus cases, depending on the country, were children below 18 years. It is still unclear if children with the virus can pass it onto others. The variables and the unknowns, with no research certain, underlie the complex calculus to reopening.

But in Europe, classes have resumed: “because children play a relatively small role in the spread of the virus.” This conclusion serves as their principal basis. Policy makers are also keenly considering the social costs that the children bear: escalating abuse issues, mental health concerns. Children in schools are also critical for economies to recover. With no one to watch the kids, how do parents even report for work?

Ideally, any face to face resumption must consider the level of infection in each community. This would inform the calibration of efforts. There can’t be a one size fits all approach.

Academic. But it’s moot. This is not because President Rodrigo Duterte came out publicly against face-to-face classes pending availability of vaccines. Rather, its because the only way we pull that off is if government can guarantee that, with single minded purpose, they can elevate their ability to test, trace and treat to a more robust level. Only thus can we equalize our children’s chances against the virus should we embrace the risk. But government can’t guarantee that.

So we go blended. The DepEd is acutely aware of the resource inequalities and the variance in learners’ circumstances. This has not deterred the Department from powering through despite mounting calls for postponement. With inputs from ground surveys of their heroic divisions and regional offices (visit them and be amazed), they are mapping out the capacity of their wards and the distinctive needs of each locality. This is the work in progress that the Senate wanted wrapped up by now.

The LGUs, NGOs and the private sector are chipping in, continuing the Whole of Society effort, to assure that no child is left behind. Whatever may be needed, be it the sourcing and distribution of computer/laptop/tablet/cellphone capability; expanding online learning to use mixed media: radio, TV, social media, the DepEd is busy finalizing a workable roadmap. Even the Knowledge Channel has been partnering: their content reportedly matches up to 50 percent of the DepEd’s most essential learning competencies for K-10.

In areas where wi-fi infrastructure is deficient, maybe distribution of TVs or, per PRRD, radios would be more practical, tapping community radio stations for the remotest areas. And if this proves inadequate, modules are being printed and reproduced, to be delivered and then picked up in coordination with the teachers and the community.

The groundwork. In their report to the Senate committee on education, the DepEd shared that from March to June, already 40 percent of public school teachers have been oriented on blended learning. The balance of 60 percent are expected to be fast tracked to readiness in the two months leading to Aug. 24.

For launching this July are the webinars/modules for parents and the learners themselves, a critical and timebound need which Senator Nancy Binay pointed out. Sen. Nancy, as usual, displays an astute grasp of Senatorial duty to constructively probe and prompt government effort. Her critique of the bus lane initiative was a wake-up call that will compel refinement from the DOTr.

The New York Times Editorial Board cited the study of the Collaborative for Student Growth which projects that the lack of instruction during the COVID school closures translates to students retaining only as much as 70 percent of their normal annual gain in reading. For math, it’s even worse. Depending on the year level, students could lose from 50 percent to 100 percent of achievement growth. The implications are dizzying and are set to impact an entire generation. Forfeiting the school year is not an option. Truly, as Secretary Leonor Briones stressed, education cannot wait.

‘Til the grand lady sings. Sec. Liling, COVID survivor, is tough, tested and trustworthy. There is no ounce of retreat in this lady who makes even Hercules look meek. To her, interrupting the learning process is an injustice to students. Invoking the saying that “Education is the spine of a nation,” she will find a way, however challenging it may get. All over the globe, nations are finding ways. As the world adjusts to the underlying disruptions, we will never be 100 percent ready at any time. This doesn’t mean we give up.

Even under best case scenarios, it will be not be easy to surmount the obstacles of distance learning. As the Senators have commented, it’s a “staggering” ask. We need to prepare for a learning curve that will be neither flat nor short.

Rep. France Castro (ACT) dares Sec. Briones to demonstrate if the “anti-poor” distance learning is workable in real life. If the modalities designed will not be accessible to the less fortunate, then what’s the point? Well, the DepEd promised a dry-run before Aug. 24. They deserve the chance to show us how.

Loaves and fishes. However adamant he is against face-to-face learning and despite being skeptical at the start, PRRD has vowed not to surrender children’s education. Even if necessary to personalize the approach to each child, he has committed to finding the funds.

Our local government units continue to be frontliners, even in this back-to-school campaign. Enrollment, surveys, dissemination and retrieval of modules, distribution of gadgets, specially by cities with more resources, this only works if local officials are on board. The funds from the President should ideally include the reimbursement for these unbudgeted expenditures that have eaten into LGUs’ resources in this pandemic.

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