Learn without harm

May 28, 2020

The learning process goes on -- pandemic or no pandemic.

The passing of knowledge must continue under any and all circumstances.

“There is no greater purpose in life,” according to secular views best expressed by Morgan Freeman’s character in Lucy.

And our students have a lot of catching up to do.   

This, we fully agree with and strongly support a ranking Senate official in calling for  a re-calibration  of the education program in the face of the still raging pandemic.

Even though President Duterte has expressed his views on the issue, this should not stop education stakeholders from fine-tuning the ways which would allow our young to learn amidst the pandemic without making them sick, according to Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto.

In a statement, Recto said:

Finding alternatives to face-to-face instruction is like answering a multiple choice test. To be sick should not be one of them.

Let us find the mix that will allow the 30 million children of this country to continue with their education without putting them in harm's way.

Let us see to it that even if schools are locked down, education is not placed in quarantine.

This can be done by customizing the alternatives -- distance learning, TV or radio-based instruction, home schooling, modular distance learning, online courses, ALS (Alternative Learning Systems), even radically-reduced class sizes in zero-COVID zones -- into one blend that will meet a learner's socioeconomic profile.

I have high confidence in the ability of the teachers of this land to adapt to the new normal, more so if they are empowered with the right tools to make a learner-centered adjustment.

In the meantime, let us work on our IT infrastructure to close the digital divide. The role of telcos -- including the third one -- to ramp up internet speed and penetration is crucial if lessons will be coursed via broadband.

Education should be deemed as an essential activity.

Our failure to work around the virus will spawn a lost generation that will hurt the future of this country. It will harm children of poor families who have embraced education as a ticket out of poverty. It will widen the gap between rich and poor.

Finding a system of instruction in which learning will not be hazardous to a child's health is hard. One particularly big challenge is how children in low-income households can cope with distance education or homeschooling.

But I have high hopes that the best minds in the land will be able to find a way, so that no child is left behind.

Meanwhile, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian has sponsored a bill that would authorize the President to set a different date for the start of the school year nationwide or in selected areas during a state of emergency.\

Senate Bill 1541, which is in substitution of SBs 1438, 1452, and 1457 filed, respectively, by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, and Senators Francis Tolentino and Joel Villanueva, seeks to amend Section 3 of Republic Act 7797 or “An Act to Lengthen the School Calendar from Two Hundred (200) Days to Not More Than Two Hundred Twenty (220) Class Days”.

Once passed into law, the measure would empower the President, upon recommendation of the Secretary of Education, to set a different date for the start of the school year for the entire country, or any part thereof, which is under a state of emergency, calamity, or similar occurrence.

“The subject matter of this amendatory legislation is simple, but also quite important in my view as we seek to provide the National Government more flexibility in managing the school calendar amid the unique challenges posed by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic,” Gatchalian said in his sponsorship speech.

Under RA 7977, the Secretary of Education is to set the start of the basic education school year between the first Monday of June and the last day of August.

This law served as the basis for DepEd’s decision to move the class opening to August 24 amid the persisting threat of Covid-19, and despite the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases' earlier recommendations to move the opening of classes to September.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture noted that “under the usual circumstances,” this 11 to the 12-week window provides enough flexibility for the government to adjust the class schedule due to any issue that might arise.

“Unfortunately, Covid-19 has put the entire country under the most unusual of circumstances. The proposed opening of the 2020-2021 school year on August 24 has been opposed by those who fear that the physical opening of our schools may cause a spike in Covid-19 cases among school-aged children,” Gatchalian noted.

“It is in contemplation of this and similar situations that this bill proposes it be the President himself, upon the recommendation of the Secretary of Education, who shall make this critical decision,” he said.