MANILA -- Campuses all over the Philippines were empty once more as they welcomed the start of another school year under the pandemic.
But a number of parents and students gathered outside an elementary school in Quezon City on Monday morning to stage a symbolic protest against the continuing distance learning mode being implemented by the Philippine Department of Education.
Some of the students as well as a grandmother wore school uniforms, which signified their desire for the government to come out with a clear road map for a safe and gradual return of face-to-face classes.
The Philippines, along with Venezuela, is one of two remaining countries worldwide that have not yet implemented on-site classes.
“Ang mga bata hindi talaga natututo sa distance learning,” said Nancy Roldan, 62, who has three grandchildren in school.
(Children are really not learning from distance learning.)
Roldan said her grandkids have turned to selling vegetables to augment their income since the parents of her grandkids lost jobs.
“Ngayon, ibibili na lang ng load, ibibili na lang sa internet, wala kaming ibabayad doon. Pambili namin ng pagkain halos hindi na namin matugunan,” she said.
(We have nothing to pay for load or internet. It’s already hard for us to even buy food.)
The Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns said many Filipino families have been struggling to make ends meet to both survive the pandemic and come up with money to buy gadgets and mobile data load for learners.
The group hopes the government would improve its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying this is essential in assuring that on-site classes will be safe from the spread of the coronavirus.
“Iyong hindi pagbubukas ng paaralan ay isang malinaw na paglabag sa karapatan ng mga bata sa edukasyon,” Salinlahi secretary general Eule Rico Bonganay said.
(The non-opening of schools is a clear violation of children’s right to education.)
“Naniniwala tayo na dapat, kahit nasa gitna tayo ng pandemya, dapat patuloy na natatamasa ng mga bata ‘yong kanilang karapatan sa edukasyon.”
(We believe that even in the midst of the pandemic, children should continue to enjoy that right.)
The group is gathering signatures for a petition asking the Department of Education (DepEd), the Commission on Higher Education, and Congress to provide additional funds and resources to education workers and learners as well as health protection and benefits.
The petition also calls for a “genuine academic ease” that would adapt the education curriculum to the pandemic and take into consideration the mental health of students.
TEACHERS FATIGUED, GROUP SAYS
A group of teachers held a separate protest at the Mendiola Peace Arc in Manila hours before online classes began.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers - National Capital Region (ACT-NCR) condemned what it said was the government’s neglect and lack of plans for the education sector.
They also voiced support for a limited and voluntary opening of face-to-face classes in low-risk areas of the country.
Ruby Bernardo, ACT-NCR secretary, said many public school teachers have not had rest during the implementation of distance learning for a year now, with some of them getting sick or experiencing burnout.
They have also yet to receive overtime pay.
“‘Yong quality ng education sa ganitong porma ng pagtuturo ay na-compromise, kaya nanawagan kami sa pamahalaang ito na magkaroon ng kongkretong plano sa pagbabalik-paaralan nang ligtas,” Bernardo said.
(The quality of education in this form of teaching is compromised. That’s why we are calling on the government to have a concrete plan for us to return to school safely.)
Teacher Nestor Reyes said only 5 to 10 of his students have been able to attend online classes in the last school year.
They asked government to provide them subsidies for internet allowances, gadgets, and module printing.
“Walang quality itong online blended learning na isinasagawa ng DepEd dahil unang-una wala suporta,” Reyes said.
(There is no quality in the online blended learning being implemented by DepEd since first of all, there is no support.)
—With a report from Jekki Pascual, ABS-CBN News