MANILA — The Department of Education (DepEd) is planning to shift from printed self-learning modules (SLMs) to digital versions of the learning materials, an official said Thursday.
This, as remote learning will continue in schools across the country due to the continuing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Considering that the use of paper would have an environmental cost and, at the same time, mahirap i-sustain in the long run kasi consumables talaga ito, so nasisira siya. Lalo ngayon, kung magkakaroon ng pag-ulan, pagbaha, pagbagyo. Very vulnerable itong mga learning materials na ito," Education Assistant Secretary Malcom Garma told ABS-CBN News.
(Considering that the use of paper would have an environment cost and, at the same time, it's hard to sustain in the long run because these materials are consumables, they get ruined easily. Especially now, if it's going to rain, there will be storms and floods, these learning materials are very vulnerable.)
"The effort now is really to slowly digitize iyong laman nitong mga (the contents of these) printed modules," he said.
For students without internet connectivity, the materials can be placed inside USBs, which can be accessed in other available gadgets.
"It may not be the laptop, it may not be iPad, even an ordinary smartphone can be utilized for these gadgets, [our] digitized modules," he said.
Along wiht efforts to digitize learning materials, DepEd is also trying to ensure stable internet connection and providing gadgets to teachers and learners, Garma said.
This, after a recent study by the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) found that internet connectivity and speed were the major challenges experienced by teachers in implementing distance learning.
Garma said DepEd is in close coordination with the Department of Information and Communications Technology and the National Telecommunications Commission to improve connectivity infrastructure in parts of the country.
"These agencies have committed to really provide the necessary infrastructure because they have recognized na there is a need already to improve our infrastructure. Before the pandemic, mayroon na talagang programa pero school-based kasi (there's already a program but these are school-based). In fact, most of the schools have already been connected with Wi-Fi," he explained.
"Not only the national agencies but even local government units are doing their part in providing free access in the communities," he said.
While the DepEd wants to provide gadgets to all teachers and learners, it's "not realistic at the moment" because it's "dependent on the resources that we have," Garma said.
"What is important now is really to come up with an inventory. Sino ba iyong meron, sino iyong wala. So that ma-prioritize natin iyong wala, not necessarily lahat bigyan kaagad," he said.
DepEd has been distributing gadgets since the pandemic started, mostly in "last mile schools" or those in far-flung areas. Local government units have also distributed smartphones, tablets, and SIM cards for students and teachers.
Last June, the DepEd ordered the early release of a P5,000 cash allowance for teachers, which can be used for internet access and other distance learning needs.
In July, the agency distributed SIM cards with an initial 34 gigabyte data load for teaching and non-teaching personnel.
Garma said teachers who are having problems with their SIM cards may reach out to their school's ICT personnel or school head for assistance. If found defective, the SIM card may be replaced.
Based on the NRCP study, health insurance is also a concern of teachers as the country continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garma, who shared that he is a COVID survivor himself, said the agency is prioritizing the health of its personnel, especially teachers who report for work amid the pandemic.
"Ang gusto natin makatulong talaga sa lahat ng empleyado natin na nagkaka-COVID because, we know, one way or another, they've gotten their COVID because of their line of work. Gusto natin talaga tumulong but the problem is, again, iyong resources natin," he said.
(We want to help all of our employees who get COVID-19 because we know, one way or another, they've gotten their COVID because of their line of work. We really want to help but the problem is, again, our resources.)
The government also provides appropriate compensation to those infected with COVID-19 through the Employees' Compensation Commission.
Hazard pay is also provided to government workers, including teachers who physically report for work in areas under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ.
Garma added that the DepEd was also prioritizing the vaccination of its teaching and non-teaching personnel.
The agency has launched a campaign to encourage education workers to get inoculated against the disease.