Internet access 'main challenge' for teachers in distance teaching in PH: study

Arra Perez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2021 07:02 PM

A teacher during her class on the opening of the school year on October 5, 2020
A teacher during her class on the opening of the school year on October 5, 2020 at the Rafael Palma Elementary School in Manila. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/File

Teachers 'using personal money' to support distance teaching needs 

MANILA— Internet connectivity and internet speed are the major challenges experienced by teachers in distance teaching and learning amid the COVID-19 crisis in the country, a study by the National Research Council of the Philippines bared Tuesday.

Dr. Celina Sarmiento, associate member of NRCP's Governmental, Educational and International Policies Division and a faculty member of the Philippine Normal University, told ABS-CBN News that the study found over 90 percent of teachers use modules for the conduct of distance learning. 

"More than 90 percent in all levels— elementary, junior high school, and senior high school— ganoon ang nae-experience (are experiencing that). Bakit ganoon? Kasi struggle or challenge ang internet connectivity in many regions," she said. 

(Why is that? Because internet connectivity is a struggle or challenge in many regions)

Based on the checklist on NRCP's survey, on average, 73.07 percent of the respondents said they spent personal money for internet connectivity, while 61.69 percent did the same for laptops or computers. At least 62 percent also used their own cash for mobile phones, and 51.04 percent spent money for printers. 

Meanwhile, 71.87 percent of the respondents said they commonly use mobile data for internet connection. For wired connectivity, 32.50 percent use fiber internet, 10.38 percent use DSL, and 20.61 percent use pocket Wi-Fi. Less than 1 percent said they "do not connect to the internet at all."

"A more stable connection is not really available widely in the Philippines. So karamihan, like iyong mga nasa rural areas, hindi naman talaga sila nararating masyado ng wired connection. So they have to settle with data connectivity or iyong mga sa SIM, naka-network," Sarmiento explained. 

(Most of them, like those in rural areas, cannot be really reached through wired connection. So they have to settle with data connectivity or mobile network.)

"Teachers are compelled to use personal money talaga to support the technology and the resources they need for remote teaching and learning... unfortunately, with the meager salary that our teachers receive, they need to take that from their wages."

The study also revealed teachers mainly use the Facebook and Messenger apps to communicate with students. That's why Sarmiento recommended looking into possible data privacy concerns in the social media platform to ensure protection for teachers and students. 

"The intention of Facebook, originally, is not really for education purposes pero nag-improvise iyong mga teacher (but the teachers improvised). Nakita nila iyong (They saw the) opportunity, they can use Facebook pala so that they can reach out to students," she said. 

The pandemic has also shed light on another concern of teachers: health insurance. 

Teachers still need to report to school for the distribution of modules and retrieval of activity sheets, which "puts them on a higher risk of acquiring COVID-19."

DepEd teachers are covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, but Sarmiento noted the state insurer has limitations on covering educators' health expenses.

'TAKE CARE OF OUR TEACHERS' 

Sarmiento said the study aims to help DepEd and the education sector to understand teachers more so that they may respond to their needs better. 

She said 28,859 Department of Education teachers participated in the nationwide remote teaching survey, including kinder to Grade 6, junior and senior high school educators. 

Teachers voluntarily answered the survey, which was disseminated online, while the data was collected last April. 

Long and short-term plans must be set to support teachers, such as salary increase and inclusion of internet connectivity, Sarmiento said.

"Para naman maraming ma-inspire para magturo (So they will be inspired to teach)... Take care of our teachers, 'di ba? So that, in return, they can take care of the students," she emphasized.

She said having a laptop and other electronic gadgets is necessary like clothing for teachers these days.

"Baka naman dapat din, eventually, kasama na din siya doon sa mga allowances na binibigay sa teachers," Sarmiento said.

(Maybe, eventually, that will be included in teachers' allowances.)

Teacher education, like honing skills and focusing on development of educators, must be prioritized, envisioning "future-ready teachers," she said. Sarmiento believes distance teaching and learning experiences of teachers are "here to stay"— and these should be used the improve strategies and policies. 

"Itong pandemic na ito (This pandemic), it could be an eye-opener for the Department of Education and other educational institutions because it addresses one of the issues that we have in the Department of Education: kulang naman tayo talaga sa classroom, 'di ba? So kapag naayos natin iyong remote teaching and learning, the lack of classroom, iyong kakulangan ng classroom, hindi na siya issue ngayon." 

(We lack classrooms right? So if we fix our problems in remote teaching and learning, the lack of classrooms will not be an issue right now.)

As a new school year awaits students on Sept. 13, improvements must be felt from the previous implementation of remote teaching, Sarmiento said. She said at least 50 percent of teachers surveyed believe "students learn somewhat less," while nearly 42 percent think that "students learn much less" from distance learning.

"And our rankings in international assessments, even before pandemic, ay 'area of concern' na," she noted. 

Sarmiento surmised that in the next rollout of remote learning, DepEd and teachers may need to work on other aspects of the new learning norm. 

'LEANING TOWARDS TECHNOLOGY' 

In a virtual press conference for the DepEd-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) on Aug. 17, Education Secretary Leonor Briones admitted stable internet connectivity is really a challenge nationwide.

She said the agency is investing in technology as this is the "direction" now.

"We are leaning towards the use of ICT (information and communications technology) kasi ang pinaka-expensive (because the most expensive) way of producing learning materials is through the printed method... We are in the process of increasing our dependency on ICT, on TV, on radio, and other means of learning methods," Briones said.

"As a policy, we want to shift to technology. But then for technology also to be effective, you also need connectivity and connectivity is very, very limited."

DepEd said it is also coordinating with local government units (LGUs) and stakeholders to acquire and distribute more gadgets for teachers. Education Undersecretary Tonisito Umali bared the agency has allowed LGUs to use their special education funds to buy gadgets for teachers and learners.

Last June, Briones ordered the early release of the P5,000 cash allowance for teachers, which can be used for internet access and other distance learning needs. Last July, DepEd distributed SIM cards with an initial 34GB data load for teaching and non-teaching personnel. 

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