MANILA -- A federation of private schools with about 3,000 members has joined calls to postpone the August 24 opening of classes.
Eleazardo Kasilag, president of the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators or FAPSA, warned that the school year may be “very chaotic, a catastrophe” as many parents, teachers and students in public schools and some private schools are not ready for “blended learning”.
“Blended learning” is the Department of Education’s (DepEd) response to the COVID-19 pandemic where learners are educated at home using the Internet, printed modules or a combination of both. Television and radio stations will also be tapped to broadcast lessons.
“You have to know how to operate a tablet, laptop or smartphone. But many students are going to use these newly procured or donated gadgets for the first time. They may not know how,” Kasilag said in starting his litany of what could go wrong.
“Who will troubleshoot if the gadget malfunctions? The curriculum needs to be installed in the gadget, that’s one problem. It’s another problem if the student inadvertently deletes it."
Kasilag said other students might be very excited about the new gadgets and use it for playing games. “If the battery conks out by the time class begins, they could miss an entire session. We haven’t even started talking about Internet access and speed, if the teachers are sufficiently equipped and trained, if the parents are educated or tech savvy,” he said.
Kasilag, whose family owns a school that began tablet education in 2012, said he is speaking from experience. “Our first year was the worst year. At the time, we were new to it so we didn’t know how to address the problems. Some students left and moved to public schools. Some teachers also left us. Marami talagang problema.”
DepEd Undersecretary for Planning Jesus Mateo agrees that the supervision of students is important. “This is why we are looking at tapping retired professionals or teachers who have not yet been hired to become tutors.”
Mateo said they are in discussions with the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Interior and Local Government to revise the guidelines of the Special Education Fund to expand its use to hiring would-be tutors.
“It’s a challenge to deliver education to learners now, but that’s why it’s not just online. If an area has no Internet connection, no radio station or TV, they can use the printed materials,” he said.
But can the DepEd deliver the printed modules? Kasilag doesn’t think so.
“You are talking about printing for millions of students,” Kasilag said. “Second, interaction and supervision of a student needs to be immediate. Who do I go to if I don’t understand the lesson? I would be stuck with my questions all day. This is the same for learning on TV and radio--you can’t pause or rewind, there is no one to immediately go to to ask questions.”
Because of the problems they foresee, FAPSA is joining calls for the DepEd to postpone the August 24 start of the school year. He said the League of Provinces of the Philippines, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, and the Teachers Dignity Coalition have been clamoring the same.
For now, it’s unclear if the DepEd would even consider recommending the postponement of the opening of classes to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Over 13.2 million have already enrolled in public and private schools as of June 22. A bill that would empower the President to set class opening after August is now awaiting his signature.
“The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children have a right to education and that’s true whether in a pandemic or not,” Mateo said. “We don’t have all the solutions so it’s important that different sectors work together.”