Student group warns of more drop-outs over lack of distance learning devices
MANILA, Philippines – A historic high in school drop-out for the upcoming school year may be seen unless the government and education sector work to give both students and teachers access to distance learning methods, a student group warned on Thursday.
According to Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark), the impending huge drop-out rates would highlight the difference between students with equipment suitable to online classes, compared to those who cannot afford gadgets like laptops, smartphones, and a stable internet connection.
Spark noted that of the 27.2 million students under primary and secondary education systems, only 10.5 million have enrolled since the Department of Education (DepEd) opened its online enrollment procedures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at the early part of June.
“This drop in enrollment numbers is a clear manifestation of the digital divide brought about by the pandemic. Many students have struggled in the past months to even get a stable internet connection to participate in online classes,” the group said in a statement.
“This move towards online enrollment is a continuation of the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) insistence on blended learning even at the expense of excluding those without the necessary material means,” Spark added.
Previously, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list also expressed grave concern over the slowdown in the enrollment, giving the same warning that the 33 percent dropout rate may only be an initial estimate.
“The drop in enrollment numbers will only be the tip of the iceberg as time goes on, as sustaining the participation and engagement of students in online classes will prove to be another hurdle for educators,” Spark said.
“The difficulties in adjustment still remain for many students and teachers, especially those in the basic education levels who are not equipped technologically and practically speaking for this shift to online modes of learning,” it noted.
Recently, photos of teachers in Davao de Oro who were camping roadside to get a strong data connection signal went viral in light of the anticipated distance learning mechanisms to prevent localized coronavirus transmission.
While the enrollment turnout has been low, DepEd said that it is satisfied with it, admitting that parents of students have the final say in terms of the sudden shift to a virtual learning scheme.
In his briefing last Monday night, President Rodrigo Duterte said that he does not want to resume face-to-face classes until a vaccine or antibody against the virus is available.
He vowed to purchase radios that may be used by people living in the countryside, especially those who do not have access to electricity and other appliances. However, he asked for patience in purchasing the radios, as the government has already run out of funds.
Spark believes that classes should be suspended for now, until mass testing and the upgrade of online facilities are done. However, while this is being done, the salary of teachers should be granted.
“Not even Duterte’s pathetic promise of buying transistor radios for students and teachers in far-flung areas will ensure quality instruction for a vast majority of students,” Spark claimed.
“All of this will no doubt affect the quality of education students will receive as they struggle to learn new platforms while facing existing struggles with access to the internet and the necessary devices for online classes. Tragically, even those who have managed to enroll virtually may drop out due to the inferior quality of education received in addition to struggles faced in adjusting to the vastly limited and impersonal form of online education as compared with face-to-face classes,” they added.
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