Senators question DepEd's blended-learning plan amid lack of data on telco dead spots

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 25 2020 12:24 PM

A worker disinfects a classroom inside a high school following an order from the local government amid new cases of coronavirus in the country, in San Juan City, March 9, 2020. Eloisa Lopez, Reuters/File Photo

MANILA - Several senators on Thursday questioned the Department of Education's (DepEd) preparedness to use online, television and radio when classes open in August after the agency admitted it has yet to determine which areas are incapable of receiving internet or broadcast signals.

Data on which schools have electricity and computer laboratories are available, but DepEd is still collating information on which schools have weak internet and mobile signals, Education Undersecretary Tonisito Umali told the Senate Committee on Basic Education in a hybrid hearing.

"Honesty, wala po tayong ganoong datos bago itong COVID pandemic... [but] we are getting there," he said.

(Honestly, we do not have that kind of data yet before the COVID pandemic... but we are getting there.)

Upon enrollment, students are asked to provide information about their access to internet, gadgets, television and radio, he said. Nearly 14.5 million students have enrolled, as of Thursday morning, in private and public schools across the country, latest DepEd data show.

"'Yun pong eksaktong map is still a work in progress. Magkakaroon pa po tayo ng klaradong picture before the start of the school year, pag available na yung data," DepEd Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio told senators.

(The exact map is still a work in progress. We will have a clearer picture before the start of the school year when the data is available.)

Without a clear picture of which areas have access to the internet, the DepEd may be wasting funds in training teachers for online classes, Sen. Nancy Binay said.

"Kung alam nating walang signal, why waste time and effort for online modality?" she said.

(If we know that there is no signal in that area, why waste time and effort for online modality?)

"Paano natin malalaman ilang tablets at transistor radios ang gagamitin natin kung wala tayong sinusundan na mapa?" she asked.

(How will we know how many tablets and transistor radios have to be used if we are not following a map?)

The DepEd can simply ask telcos which areas have strong and week internet and mobile phone signals, Sen. Imee Marcos said.

"Nagtataka din ako kung bakit kailangan pa natin ng enrollment data kung puwede naman mag-ocular," Marcos said.

(I am puzzled why we need data from enrollment when we can just hold an ocular.)

"Alam naman ng Globe at Smart saan mahina ang WiFi. Alam din naman ng mga teachers saan mahina ang WiFi," she said, referring to the Philippines' two telco giants.

(Globe and Smart know which areas have weak WiFi. Teachers also know which areas do not have strong WiFi signals.)

Sen. Francis Tolentino warned that the DepEd may not have enough time to prepare teachers and students to shift to a blended-learning system.

"You have less than 1 month before school opening," Tolentino said, noting that it usually takes between 6 and 9 months for schools to roll out new online courses.

Senate Committee on Basic Education chair Sherwin Gatchalian directed the DepEd to submit more data and documents, saying the legislative panel cannot "respond right away" without adequate basis.

"You cannot plan without knowing. You cannot plan without data," Gatchalian said.

"Ngayon lang tayo naghahanda at ngayon lang tayo naghahabol. What we want is information at hand so we can respond right away," he said.

Schools all over the country have been rushing to shift to deliver classes through online, television, radio or printed materials after President Rodrigo Duterte banned face-to-face classes while a COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be formulated.

Under the DepEd's blended-learning system, students may access lessons and modules either through online platforms, television, radio or printed materials.

The agency has yet to clarify how students without internet access can ask questions to teachers, and how their competence can be thoroughly assessed.