School Year 2020-21 can be so messy

June 17, 2020

Every school opening is usually plagued with lack of teachers, classrooms, and textbooks. But this school year is vastly different – so many daunting challenges beset the shift to digital and distance learning to replace traditional face-to-face classes amid the pandemic.

Would non-techie teachers be able to catch up quickly with the demands of online education? Can sufficient training be conducted efficiently? How about non-techie parents who are supposed to guide kids through homeschooling?

Can unreliable Internet connectivity finally cope with increased demand? How could families struggling financially afford expensive gadgets and WiFi? Would government be able to provide free gadgets for all public school students?

How can uneducated parents help in home schooling if they themselves are unable to comprehend online lessons or materials in the so-called blended learning mode? If the parents have to earn a living outside the home, who would look after their kids grappling with online learning sessions?

And how about the poorest areas in the Philippines where internet connectivity is not only the problem but the supply of electricity itself? Would there be a regular supply of free batteries or other sources of power for the free transistor radios that government intends to give poor students?

The many problems facing the coming school year are certainly daunting and unprecedented. But Education Secretary Leonor Briones is right: Education cannot wait, even amidst this pandemic.

“We never can attain full readiness because the world is changing rapidly,” Briones said. “I’m not of the mind that the time will come when we will 100 percent be ready. By the time we are 100 percent ready, other problems and complications have come in. And changes will have come in again.”

Briones told a Senate hearing recently that cancelling or postponing school until a vaccine for coronavirus is available would be costly. “That will cost P395 billion to compensate our teachers… P395 billion for one year of waiting, waiting for the vaccine…”

So there’s no question that this school year has to push through. This can be done, Briones said, with the “adoption of various learning delivery options such as, but not limited to face-to-face, blended learning, distance learning, and homeschooling and other modes of delivery… depending on the local COVID Risk Severity Classification and compliance with minimum health standards.”

These various learning options form part of the DepEd’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan which the Inter-Agency Task Force of the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases has resolved to adopt.

The gargantuan challenges ahead for the pursuit of the various learning options can be met much easier with a strong partnership between the DepEd and local government units with their respective local school boards (LSBs).

The Local Government Code of 1991 provides that all provinces, cities, and municipalities have their LSBs consisting of the local chief executive and superintendent or supervisor of schools as co-chairmen, with members comprised of the local sanggunian’s education committee chairman, the local treasurer, representative of Sangguniang Kabataan, representative of the teachers’ organization, and representative of the non-academic personnel of public schools.

The LSBs “serve as advisory committee to the sanggunian concerned on educational matters such as, but not limited to, the necessity for and the uses of local appropriations for educational purposes.” They also determine budgetary needs for the operation and maintenance of public schools. They can also pursue computer literacy training for teachers and help with online learning modules, as well as strengthening internet connectivity in their localities.

The daunting challenges that are overwhelming when viewed from a national perspective can be eased a bit by “localizing” problems and subjecting it to sharper focus with local school boards at the forefront, so local solutions can emerge. In other words:  localize the problem, localize the solution.