Youth group tells DepEd: Just admit that we’re not ready for classes
MANILA, Philippines — A youth group has urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to concede that the country’s educational system is not ready for distance learning, claiming that the agency’s budget hearing raised questions on whether preparations are adequate.
The Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (Spark) was referring to issues mentioned during the hearing for DepEd’s 2021 budget at the House of Representatives’ Committee on appropriations, like admissions from officials that students may have to share modules due to budget restrictions.
Modules are learning materials that may be used by students who cannot comply with distance learning schemes or online classes due to lack of adequate devices or in the absence of a stable internet connection.
“Rather than proving to us that the agency truly is prepared for class opening on October 5, this session has only proven how utterly unprepared the department and the country at large are for the much-touted ‘new normal’ for education,” Spark said in a statement on Wednesday.
The group also noted that using a modular form of schooling — where students or parents may have to go to school from time-to-time to get learning materials — without appropriating funds for COVID-19 testing of students and teachers, may be risky.
“The DepEd has also reported in the hearing that schools have been distributing modules up to a weekly basis, with the distribution scheme left up to schools themselves,” Spark said.
“Yet nothing was said about the potential health risks modular learning distribution poses to teachers, despite hundreds of teachers and staff already having contracted the virus in the rush to print modules — of which most of the costs have been covered by teachers themselves,” it noted.
Spark has advocated for an academic freeze for the school year 2020 to 2021, to allow families economically affected by the pandemic to recover and focus on the demands of the pandemic first; and also to prevent further stress on students who cannot cope with distance learning requirements.
Recently, the youth organization reiterated their call for an academic freeze after Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) chair Prospero De Vera III urged proponents of a school year suspension to submit a well-researched study about it.
On top of the criticisms, Spark said that the budget cuts DepEd sustained would not do much to help teachers doing online classes, as no funds have been allocated to help teachers who have, and may contract the disease.
“Apart from the insufficient budget allocated by the national government to the education sector as a whole with the initial budget proposal of 1.1 trillion being declined and lowered to just 750 billion pesos, DepEd Usec. Anne Sevilla explained that none of it could be allocated for the treatment of teachers and staff affected by COVID-19 and internet allowances and that to this day there remain no guidelines for cash assistance for students, teachers, and staff,” Spark claimed.
“Costs for mass testing for students, teachers, and staff are left in the jurisdiction of the local government units, while the only health-related financial aid available for school employees and teachers is their existing PhilHealth medical package. Whether these will be sufficient remains elusive,” it said.
Even if coronavirus infections have slightly slowed down in recent weeks, the government still prefers a distance learning method to avoid dangers brought by face-to-face classes. However, it has also a lot of students and teachers in the dark, especially with prior incidents where instructors had to camp by the road just to get a quick internet connection.
DepEd claims to have reached their enrollment targets, but several groups said that this is way below than expected with still three million students not enrolled.
Aside from this, groups have also called on the government to stop schooling as it has led to mental health issues among students, as several reports of self-harm surfaced due to the inability to attend online classes. [ac]
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