By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – “Many students like me worry about how our parents can possibly afford to buy gadget and internet load for our everyday online class. Even if the classes already started, I still don’t have gadgets to use for school,” said David Austria, an incoming first year college and secretary of Salinlahi Youth Marikina.
Austria’s predicament is shared by thousands of Filipino youth and their parents upon the resumption of classes for school year 2021-2022. This is also the same problem that they faced last year when online classes and modular and blended learning were first held in lieu of face-to-face classes because of the pandemic.
On September 13, youth, teachers, and other sectors called for “#LigtasNaBalikPaaralan” and criticized the Duterte administration for gross and criminal negligence in the entire pandemic response, which has aggravated the crisis of the education sector.
According to Kabataan Party-list National Spokesperson Raoul Manuel, about five million Filipino students will be unable to enroll this year because of the failed distance learning program.
Not a ‘victory’
Teachers, meanwhile, refuted Education Secretary Leonor Briones’s claim that the second year of opening schools in the middle of the pandemic should be a ‘celebration of successes and victories’.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Partylist Representative France Castro said the pre-pandemic situation only worsened.
“Even before the pandemic, DepEd has already been belittling, closing its doors and even worse, red-tagging teachers who fight for a substantial salary increase, adequate and timely release of benefits, and the resolution of years-long inadequacies in the system of education,” the legislator said in Filipino. “Now that we are experiencing endless bouts of surges in the pandemic, the education system has only worsened because there are still no plans and funds for the safe return of classes.”
Castro said the lack of learning materials for children became rampant, teachers did not receive any support from the government, and the salaries of majority of teachers remain to be inadequate especially with the increase in the prices of goods.
Castro lamented that the Duterte administration has yet to bat an eye on the teachers’ call for a substantial salary increase, a campaign which began even before the pandemic hit the country.
The teachers’ representative also called for the distribution of their P1,500 (US$30) monthly internet allowances, overtime pay, gadgets, adequate and timely release of modules, and ultimately, a concrete plan for the safe return of students to face-to-face classes.
The youth also described the current setup of the education system ‘anti-poor’.
College of Editors Guild (CEGP) Deputy Secretary General Regina Tolentino described how difficult, ineffective, counterproductive modular learning has been for students and their parents and teachers.
“The shortage of learning materials, delayed wages, lack of teachers’ benefits, and the already anti-poor education system are manifestations of a failed education system, making the department’s recent remarks questionable,” she said.
Even the government’s economic managers have foreseen the drastic effects of another year of online learning.
According to NEDA’s Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua, the Philippines will incur P11 trillion (US$220.32 billion) in productivity losses over the next 40 years because of the failure to resume face-to-face classes. He explained that the lack of face-to-face classes ‘limits the learning ability of students’ and can have a permanent effect even when the student is already part of the labor force.
Worse, youth and teachers have long suffered from the failure of the education system in the Philippines even before Covid-19 came. Castro notes that the Philippines scored the lowest among 58 countries in the 2019 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
“And DepEd under the Duterte administration keeps this up under the blended learning system. It’s no wonder that our students perform badly in 3Rs,” Castro said.
“The longer the Duterte administration keeps its schools closed, learning loss among students only continues to worsen. Another year of modules for students without adequate guidance from their teachers will be another wasted year for the students, teachers, and parents,” she added.
Castro, Manuel and other progressive groups hit the Duterte administration for neglecting to formulate a concrete plan that will lead to the resumption of face-to-face classes.
As of press time, the Philippines remains to be only one of the two countries in the entire globe that has yet to return to face-to-face classes. Other countries have already been able to resume their classes, only with the strict observation of health protocols and a continuous vaccination program.
“Where is the plan for the safe return of classes for teachers and students? To say that there is a ‘victory’, the facilities should be adequate and safe, all children can go to school, and they are able to receive a good quality of education,” Castro said.
Although there have been proposals to pilot test a few schools, this will be limited to areas with low Covid-19 cases and a concrete plan has yet to be laid out by the government.
“Casinos are open, malls are open, why are schools closed?” Manuel asked in Filipino.
In a petition, Salinlahi urged the national government to roll out a clear plan for the immediate safe conduct of limited and voluntary in-classroom learning in zero-case and low-risk areas and provide a roadmap to the eventual safe reopening of schools across the country; allocate higher budget to education to ensure the provision of teaching and learning resources for distance learning as well as health protection and benefits to education workers; and implement genuine academic ease.