MULTIMEDIA

Scaling roofs and mountains, Philippine students battle to take online classes

Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Posted at Jan 07 2021 04:51 PM

MANILA— Since the pandemic forced him into remote learning, 10-year-old Jhay Ar Calma has often had to climb on to the corrugated iron roof of his home in a poor neighborhood of Manila to get an internet signal.

Up on the roof, he sits on a broken plastic basin and hopes there will be signal strong enough for his government-issued device.

"Sometimes we change the SIM card to a different provider so he doesn't have to study on the roof, but there's rarely enough money to spare for that," Calma's mother Jonalyn Parulan told Reuters.

Hopes for a return to classrooms this month have been dashed after President Rodrigo Duterte reversed a plan to trial in-person classes in areas at low risk of COVID-19, postponing any reopening indefinitely as the Philippines battles over 480,000 coronavirus infections, the second-highest number in Southeast Asia.

The shift to online classes, self-learning modules and television and radio programs has proven extremely challenging in a country of 108 million where less than a fifth of households have internet access and many lack mobile devices.

Already, there has been a surge in students dropping out of school, according to the education ministry.

STUDYING ON A MOUNTAIN, IN A GRAVEYARD

In Laguna province, south of Manila, students trek up a mountain to get internet access, and have even built a hut to provide shelter when it rains and to sleep when they work late into the night on assignments.

This situation is a far cry from the university life Rosemine Gonzaga, 19, had anticipated.

"I was really excited for college because all my life I've been here in the mountains," Gonzaga said, explaining how the pandemic had thwarted her plans for an independent life in the town.

Like many students in her community, she relies on a scholarship and fears she may lose it if she is unable to keep up with lessons. Still, Gonzaga is resolved to continue online classes rather than risk infection attending university.

"The pandemic is no reason for me to stop learning," she said.

Mark Joseph Andal, 18, who lives in San Juan, Batangas province, has taken a part-time job in construction to purchase a smartphone for virtual classes and has also built a forest shelter to get internet signal.

When the signal fades, Andal picks up his plastic chair to move to another spot, and if it rains, he holds the phone in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

Andal says he has no choice. "We're not rich, and finishing school is my only way to repay my parents for raising me."

Andal admits he was both relieved and scared when he heard schools might reopen. The trying circumstances have made him more determined to succeed.

"I want to be more active in class, I want to persevere more, to improve myself despite the situation I'm in," he said.

Many families also struggle with home tutoring.

Lovely Joy de Castro, 11, who lives at a makeshift home in a Manila cemetery, sometimes studies sitting on gravestones to avoid getting under the feet of her family cooking chicken to sell to visitors.

"I know we haven't given her enough guidance with school," said Castro's grandmother Angeline Delos Santos, "but if we don't take care of our business, we would have nothing to feed the kids."

"I just hope that she finishes school, gets a good job, and ultimately finds a life outside this cemetery," said Santos.

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Mark Joseph Andal, 18, a college student, takes part in an online class through a smartphone at a forest hut where there is internet connection, following the suspension of physical classes during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mabalanoy, San Juan, Batangas, Philippines October 15, 2020. Andal has taken a part-time job in construction to purchase a smartphone for virtual classes and has also built a forest shelter to capture an internet signal. When the signal fades, Andal picks up his plastic chair to move to another spot, and if it rains, he holds the phone in one hand and an umbrella in the other. "We're not rich, and finishing school is my only way to repay my parents for raising me."Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

College students Jenebyl Cipres, 19, Almer Acuno, 21, Jester Rafon, 20, and Rosemine Gonzaga, 19, work on online worksheets in a hut on a mountain, as their community does not have enough signal for internet connection, following the suspension of physical classes during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sitio Papatahan, Paete, Laguna, Philippines, October 22, 2020. "I always fear I wouldn't be able to follow along with our lessons compared to my classmates who are in a better situation, in a more comfortable environment. I'm not jealous because I'm used to this way of living. I'm just scared to be left behind," says Rafon.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Annie Sabino, 16, a grade 9 student, completes her school work next to her dog, while tending to her family's sidewalk eatery beside their home, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, January 6, 2021. "I often wake up late for class from staying up too late finishing online schoolwork, as the signal is better at night," says Sabino.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Lovely Joy De Castro, 11, a grade 5 student, takes part in an online class using a smartphone, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, while her grandmother and aunt prepare chickens to be sold to visitors at the Manila South Cemetery where they live in a makeshift home, in Makati City, Philippines, November 6, 2020. "I know we haven't given her enough guidance with school," says Castro's grandmother Angeline Delos Santos, "but if we don't take care of our business, we would have nothing to feed the kids."Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Jonathan Ticzon, 11, a grade 6 student, listens to his father Ricardo Ticzon at their home, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, November 10, 2020. "I actually prefer online learning because I used to get bullied in school. In a way, this situation turned out better for me because now no one gets to bully me," says Jonathan.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

College students Jester Rafon, 20, Rosemine Gonzaga, 19, Jenebyl Cipres, 19, and Almer Acuno, 21, hike up a mountain to find a spot where there is internet connection so they could take part in online classes, following the suspension of physical classes during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Sitio Papatahan, Paete, Laguna, Philippines, October 22, 2020. "I was really excited for college because all my life I've been here in the mountains," Gonzaga says, explaining how the pandemic had thwarted her plans for an independent life in the town.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Jonathan Ticzon, 11, a grade 6 student, listens to his father Ricardo Ticzon as he teaches him at their home surrounded by siblings and cousins, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Makati City, Philippines, November 10, 2020. "It's important for me to finish school so I can get a good job, and teach my future kids everything I know—just like how my father is to me," says Jonathan.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Mark Joseph Andal, 18, a college student, tries to find a spot in the forest where there is internet connection, in order to take part in an online class using his smartphone following the suspension of physical classes during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Mabalanoy, San Juan, Batangas, Philippines October 15, 2020. Andal has taken a part-time job in construction to purchase a smartphone for virtual classes and has also built a forest shelter to capture an internet signal. When the signal fades, Andal picks up his plastic chair to move to another spot, and if it rains, he holds the phone in one hand and an umbrella in the other. "We're not rich, and finishing school is my only way to repay my parents for raising me."Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Mary Joyce Florendo, 8, a grade 3 student, is helped by her mother while working on her learning modules, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at their home in Manila, Philippines, November 10, 2020. "It's important for me to finish my studies so I can help my parents in the future," says Florendo.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Nhieshalyn Galicia, 8, a grade 2 student, works on a school assignment at her home, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Manila, Philippines, January 6, 2021. "I actually think it would be much better if they postpone schooling for the meantime because not all parents are capable of teaching their children. It's really difficult and time-consuming, especially for me with two children. Sometimes they have questions that are difficult for me to answer," says Nhieshalyn's mother, Judelyn Margot Arnaiz.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Almer Acuno, 21, an agriculture student, uses a smartphone to take part in an online class as he sits inside a hut on top of a mountain where there is internet connection, following the suspension of physical classes to prevent the spread of COVID-19, in Sitio Papatahan, Paete, Laguna, Philippines, October 22, 2020.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Jhay Ar Calma, 10, a grade 5 student, is helped by his mother Jonalyn Parulan as he prepares to take part in an online class with a tablet, provided to him by the local government, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in their home in Sta. Mesa, Manila, Philippines, October 30, 2020. "Sometimes we change the SIM card to a different provider so he doesn't have to study on the roof, but there's rarely enough money to spare for that," Parulan tells Reuters.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Jean Irish Del Rosario, 13, a grade 7 student, takes part in an online class using a tablet that is connected to a sundries store's WiFi vending machine, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Tondo, Manila, Philippines, November 10, 2020.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Daniella Nicole Cabasines, 11, a grade 5 student, works on her learning modules at an evacuation center for residents affected by the onslaught of Typhoon Vamco, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Kasiglahan Village, Rodriguez, Rizal, Philippines, November 27, 2020. "When the flood started to rise, the first thing on my mind was to save my modules. I forgot about my clothes, but not my modules. The last time there was a typhoon, we received a lot of clothes from donations, but I thought no one could give me back my modules," says Cabasines.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Grade 5 student Lovely Joy De Castro, 11, takes notes while attending an online class using a smartphone, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Manila South Cemetery where she lives with her family in Makati City, Philippines, November 6, 2020. "I just hope that she finishes school, gets a good job, and ultimately finds a life outside this cemetery," says Castro's grandmother Angeline Delos Santos on her granddaughter.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters

Grade 5 student Lovely Joy De Castro, 11, takes notes while attending an online class using a smartphone, as schools remain closed during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Manila South Cemetery where she lives with her family in Makati City, Philippines, November 6, 2020. "I just hope that she finishes school, gets a good job, and ultimately finds a life outside this cemetery," says Castro's grandmother Angeline Delos Santos on her granddaughter.Eloisa Lopez, Reuters