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“Disconnected-DepEd”

Joaquin Villareal


Technology has advanced to a point where even a global pandemic can’t stop the school year.

Ever since the beginning of the “COVID-19 Pandemic” in early March, talks of the next school year had begun. The anxiety for the next school year increased in May, as the pandemic, which many Filipino youth expected to last for two weeks, seemed to have no end in sight. Many suspected that school year 2020-2021 would not push through as some are recommending an academic freeze given the absence of any tested vaccine.

Despite this, Department of Education (DepEd) assured that this school year will push through despite the fear of Covid-19. Education Secretary Leonor Briones had stated that they would tap “TV and radio” based educational programs, aside from the already existing online classes. They would also issue printed modules to students who could not afford gadgets or a consistent internet connection.

Many doubted the feasibility of these concepts. The Philippines is reported to have an average of 5.5 mb/s. According to the Speedtest Global Index, it currently ranks 109 out of 174 in broadband speed, with an average of 25.07 Mb/s. Mobile speed, however, ranked at 113 with an average of 16.95 mb/s.

Despite the increase from last year, the Philippines still has inconsistent speeds. It must also be noted that rural areas do not have the best access to a connection, forcing them to venture out into a post-Covid world to seek better signal.

Keeping this in mind, DepEd prepared printed modules to be sent to students every week. These modules will be collected by their teacher, who will then give them a new batch of worksheets to do. This method, however, remains a worry to most parents, teachers and students alike who believe it may be ineffective, as it would mean students would have to essentially self-study in order to grasp the lesson. It would also mean parents would have to assist their children with their lessons more often than before, which troubles parents who work during school hours.

The demand for an academic freeze came from several groups, due to the concern of the effectiveness of online classes, as well as the added burden. The initial proposals by the government were of no reassurance, only further adding to the anxiety for this year.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) had proposed in early April that ‘digital classrooms’ could be conducted in internet cafés. This lowered students’ confidence for the school year, as it would still lead to them going to a public area where they are susceptible to Covid-19.

Further, adding to students and parents’ growing concerns include DepEd’s proposal for LGUs to put up ‘Barangay Wifi’ stations, which also leads to public gatherings which has been discouraged since the Philippines now has the most number of new cases each day and may well overtake Indonesia in having the most number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia. This does not include yet a very problematic internet connectivity as well as funds with about half of the working population already unemployed.

Students still doubt TV and radio learning, with one commenting “Whether you like it or not, TV and radio is a bogus way of learning. A radio would only allow you hear the teacher’s instructions and such, with no visual learning, and TV may have visual learning, but there is no communication in either platforms.”

According to DepEd’s last tally, 21.7 million students have enrolled, with 20,475,530 students enrolled to public schools and 1,219,094 for private schools. This number is only 77% compared to last year’s number of students.

Moreover, public school teachers also openly rued their apprehensions given the limited time for preparations. Their concerns cover teaching and learning materials teachers and students are supposed to use for these online classes, internet congestion resulting to intermittent or consistently slow internet connectivity, which even the President has mentioned during his State of the Nation Address (SONA) just recently, and even the manner of how teachers who are not technologically savvy will facilitate an ICT-intensive school year.

The DepEd, however, have addressed these concerns. Similarly, schools have also considered online and printed modules to be able to accommodate students from across levels and from different stratifications. While these appear to be quick fixes, the problems persist even into the learning experience itself because this is the first time most schools – including public schools – would be using these learning interface and it has been identified to pose several learning problems on the part of students not familiar with the technology or for those that require real-time teacher interventions. From procrastinating students to total lack of attention, the long list just goes on.

Recently, the DepEd has moved the opening of classes from August 24 to October 5. Some view it as necessary while others do not see much of a difference and still insists on an academic freeze. Those who are pushing on an academic freeze cite the rushed preparations, the lack of sufficient training on the part of tenured teachers, and other aforementioned reasons.

And despite the preparations of teachers, not all students are able to go to school.

One student, “Rue, who previously went to a private school will not be attending school year 2020-2021. When asked about her opinion on DepEd’s insistence to push through this school year, she has the following thoughts shared:

“The DepEd's decision to push through this school year is a proof that they are not willing to listen to the outcry of their citizens especially the students. Their infamous line 'no student shall be left behind' is just a facade. Not thousands, but millions of students are left behind because they are struggling with money and can't afford to have gadgets or the internet connection that will be able to suffice the so-called 'online class'. What's more raging about this matter is that DepEd's secretary, Briones, claims that if this academic year will not push through, the students might no longer have the inspiration to continue their studies by the following year or years because we had an academic freeze. Wrong. I oppose to this because we have seen a vast number of students asking for an academic freeze because they believe that it's the absolute solution regarding this matter. Many students and their families are hustling just to find money. The DepEd is sending its people, whether it is the students or their working-class parents, into desperation. Money is scarce today, and some parents would rather put their remaining money on the table just so they could have food instead of their child's tuition fee.”

When asked if she felt left behind by DepEd, she stated that “Oh, of course, I do feel left behind. My friends are already enrolled and are going on with their respective online classes, while I am do nothing but wait for a solution to this.”

The reason for “Rue’s” inability to go to school this year is due to her and her parents’ lack of trust in online classes, stating “My parents choose not to enroll me since there would be no physical classes because of the pandemic. However, I am not also a fan of online classes.”.

To add whether or not online classes would be a good distraction, she stated

“For some students, the school could be a distraction since there's nothing much going around them and they are all stuck in their houses. But, to be honest, it is not as effective as the physical classes so it would just bore them to death. So, basically, if it just serves as a 'killing time' for the students, they just wasted their money.”

“Rue’s” sentiments echo the feelings of students across the nation, who feel the that online class would be a financial burden in a time of loss and suffering. The lack of assurances from the government’s handling of the pandemic is of no help, only fanning the fire for an academic freeze.

She alleged that the insensitive comments of Education Secretary Briones further ruined her reputation among students. She had stated that only “only 2,832 children are affected and these are only mild cases.” As well as that there are only “16 recorded deaths of children”. This angered students, who took it as an insult to their lives and wellbeing.

Her insistence on students wanting to go to school this year is baffling, as one look at social media would show that thousands of students are protesting this school year. This is not to add the students whose voices aren’t heard due to the lack of an internet connection.

According to DepEd’s last tally, 21.7 million students have enrolled, with 20,475,530 students enrolled to public schools and 1,219,094 for private schools. This number is only 77% compared to last year’s number of students.

The disconnect of DepEd to the reality of the situation is supposedly a great disappointment to students all around the country, who purportedly believe that continuing the school year would only add to their problems given the financial burden to parents and the massive unemployment rate in an already struggling economy. Many believe the plans of DepEd are ostensibly anti-poor, which critics say is evident due to the decrease of number of students, as well as the students from private schools who have switched to public schools.

The voices of students, parents, and teachers all echo the same worries for the effectiveness of this school year. The fact that DepEd is not taking into account the opinions of students, the subject of the problem, shows their lack of an open mind to the situation, only believing numbers rather than words.

Online classes may bring a sense of normalcy to some, but at the end of the day, the reality sets in and you realize you aren’t in your classroom; you’re in your room, confined to four walls, with only the virtual world as your escape. Learning happens beyond the classroom and many incidental learning are lost absent actual or real-time interactions.

Whatever the case may be, the glass promise of “no student left behind” has been shattered completely. It is now up to us to pick up the pieces.

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