In less than two months, School Year 2020-2021 shall commence despite the rising cases of COVID-19. With no clear indication yet that all systems are in place, public and private schools across the country are in varying stages of preparation for the “new normal” of education.
As educators, we know the difficulties of implementing changes given a short period of time, relying primarily on our initiative and ingenuity to get things done for our learners. Parents and families are also grappling with economic uncertainties.
Thus, we call on the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider postponing the new school year to the first quarter of 2021 or January at the earliest, while using the period from July to December 2020 to extend preparations and help bridge stakeholders over present challenges towards a more responsive education system.
The EFD shares in the objective of ensuring the right and access to education of Filipino learners, and believes that learning should continue despite the pandemic. But we cannot support any rushed implementation without ensuring the maximum support to the three most important stakeholders – teachers, learners and parents.
Why an extension?
We submit the following advantages of extending preparations through a 6-month bridge period:
1. This can be used to fully prepare the needed infrastructure to train teachers and orient parents and learners.
2. This can allow students to further review and hone their understanding of the concepts learned in previous school years. They can read in advance on concepts across future grade level subjects.
3. This can give DepEd enough time to review the K-12 curriculum, and possibly replace this with a more people-centered and progressive curriculum.
Rushed continuity plan
The DepEd only released the Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) this May, with barely three months for teachers and school officials to prepare before the August 24 opening.
We remember the difficulties we faced in orienting and training to implement the K-12 Curriculum, but the situation at hand is far more daunting. Forced by the pandemic, the public education system for the first time shall employ distance learning on a wide-scale – through a combination of modular, online-based and radio/TV-based instruction.
The EFD lists down the following concerns with the BE-LCP:
1. The DepEd states that there are 900,000 regular personnel employed in the public school system, including 800,000 teachers, while there are 300,000 private school teachers and personnel. Starting this July, public school teachers will be required to report to office physically. There is no clarity whether the equipment and infrastructure for minimum health standards such as protective gears, disinfectant, detection, isolation and treatment facilities have been installed in schools. We expect that the national government shall allot funds to subsidize these provisions.
In relation to this, we join the increasing calls of various sectors for greater State support for both public and private school teachers through sustained wage subsidies and other mechanisms at this time of disrupted incomes.
2. The DepEd says that in areas where face-to-face classes will be allowed, the class size shall be reduced to 15-20 learners to ensure physical distancing. We are concerned about the implementability of this measure in terms of scheduling and space considering lingering classroom shortages in public and smaller private schools.
3. The DepEd admits that only 2% of total learners in public schools have access to laptops or tablets, while only 48% of public schools have internet connection. We share in the public’s growing concern as to whether online-based learning will actually work. The national government needs to provide increased funds to secure free wifi and technical assistance to teachers and students, and ensure connectivity especially in underserved areas.
4. The DepEd admits that there are key operational challenges in the implementation of the wider-scale Alternative Delivery Modalities. We educators know that these challenges refer to the lack of training of personnel and uncertainties in the provision of quality learning materials. We are concerned that only 40% of public school teachers had been trained in Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by DepEd according to the Senate Committee on Basic Education, with “more intensive” trainings only happening this July.
5. Most importantly, we take exception to the move to reduce or streamline the learning competencies to the “most essential” without a judicious review of the K-12 curriculum. The EFD stands by its call to overhaul the K-12 framework and replace it with a nationalist, pro-people, and progressive curriculum, where students learn not individualism and commercialism, but social consciousness and solidarity. But a problematic curriculum further streamlined means students will be learning even less this school year.
We reassert the need for a curriculum framework that is nationalist, pro-people and progressive, with renewed emphasis on humanities and social sciences. Regardless of platform, whether face-to-face or through distance learning, the teaching or instructional content remains the most important in shaping our students towards being responsible and socially-conscious citizens.
We are not assured by DepEd saying that “remediation and enhancement activities” shall be given so no learner will be left behind. With no concrete details yet on the promises made in the BE-LCP, we fear that majority of students will definitely be left behind as educators face the most uncertain and rocky school year so far. Like how DepEd officials ask Senators to give them a chance to implement the new learning plan, we educators ask the same of DepEd – to listen to the various concerns being raised and do what is right for learners and their families.