LAWMAKERS do not believe the Department of Education is prepared to open the coming schoolyear in the face of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas urged Education Secretary Leonor Briones to first pilot test the different modes of blended learning instead of insisting on pushing through with the opening of classes on August 24.
Vargas, a member of the House committee on basic education and culture, said the DepEd should consider moving the start of classes as concerns mount that several schools nationwide are still unprepared for distance learning.
“DepEd should consider pilot testing various forms of blended learning in select schools nationwide starting August 24 while sourcing additional funds for its implementation. This way, the agency will know the technical challenges that could affect teachers and students,” he said in a statement.
“Using the experiences and feedback of stakeholders in the pilot tests, DepEd can implement blended learning more effectively later this year or even in January 2021,” Vargas added.
Briones has rejected calls to move the opening of classes on August 24, saying further delays in the start of the school year could affect students’ interest in learning.
DepEd is set to use a mix of internet-based sessions, radio and television programs and printed modules for the new school year. Around 22.9 million students are enrolled for the new school year.
Following President Duterte’s stand, Briones said there will be no face to face classes until a COVID-19 vaccine is developed.
Vargas said DepEd could make the most out of the challenges caused by the pandemic to education “by finetuning methods for distance learning before its nationwide implementation.”
He said DepEd should consider recommending to the President moving the school calendar as provided for under Republic Act 11480, which allows the Chief Executive to set a different date for the start of classes during a state of calamity or emergency.
“We recognize Secretary Briones’ desire for students to continue their education amid the pandemic. But there’s no denying that there are growing pains that come with the implementation of blended learning this school year due to its scope,” Vargas said.
With deliberations on the proposed P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021 set to start this month, Vargas, who is also a vice chair of the House appropriations committee, said he will ensure DepEd will have adequate funds for education under the “new normal.”
Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Rep. France Castro also questioned the Department of Education’s readiness for the new school year, saying modules have yet to be downloaded, printed and distributed, guidelines for safety measures of teachers, non-teaching personnel, learners and parents remain unclear as the pandemic continues to worsen in the country.
“Two weeks from the scheduled start of classes on August 24, many teachers are still complaining of the lack of funds for the printing and distribution of modules, lack of support from the Department of Education to the teachers for online and self-learning modes in terms of internet and transportation and protection from COVID-19 with personal protective equipment,” she said.
Castro said the DepEd also needs to ensure its teachers and non-teaching personnel will be provided with guidelines for the safe distribution of the learning materials because teachers are forced to go house-to-house just to deliver learning materials in some regions.
Because of this, she said teachers are forced to provide, from their own pockets, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks and face shields to protect themselves from getting the deadly virus.
Briones, meanwhile, discouraged teachers from taking out loans so they can buy gadgets that will be used for distance learning. Briones said the agency will provide what the teachers need, in cooperation with local government units and other educational partners.
Briones issued the statement in the wake of claims of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines that they are receiving reports of teachers forced to take out loans to purchase laptops and other gadgets for online education and to attend webinars.
The DepEd said 23,053,197 students have enrolled in public and private schools, including state universities and colleges (SUCs) nationwide, as of August 11. – With Noel Talacay