Pandemic wake-up call for digital classrooms

SPEAKER Alan Peter Cayetano on Tuesday said the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic is “a wake-up call” for the government and the private sector to step up efforts to build more digital classrooms and smart campuses that can respond to the needs of the future.

"For the past decades, our government has not invested in digital infrastructure and learning management systems both for elementary, secondary and tertiary institutions. This pandemic has become a wake-up call for all of us,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano noted that the Bicameral Conference Committee has adopted the initiative of the House of Representatives to provide almost P8 billion to the education sector under the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act (Bayanihan 2) in order to assist schools, learners, and teachers as they cope with the challenges of alternative modes of learning during the pandemic.

Under the Congress-ratified Bayanihan 2 measure, a total of P7.9 billion was included in the P165.5 billion total appropriations and stand-by fund to support the education sector specifically to provide aid and subsidies to public elementary, secondary and tertiary schools that need them most.

The provisions for education are as follows: P300 million for the one-time cash assistance for teaching and non-teaching personnel, including part-time faculty or non-permanent teaching personnel, in all levels of education institutions, both public and private, who have lost their jobs or who have not received their wages due to the pandemic; P600 million for subsidies and allowances for qualified students in secondary and tertiary education, whether from areas with no State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) or local universities and colleges (LUCs), whose families are neither part of the Listahanan of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) nor covered under the Tertiary Education Subsidy (TES); P4 billion to assist the Department of Education (DepEd) in the implementation of Digital Education, Information Technology (IT) and Digital Infrastructures, and Alternative Learning Modalities; and P3 billion to assist SUCs in the development of smart campuses through investments in ICT infrastructure and acquisition of learning management systems and other appropriate equipment to fully implement flexible learning modalities.

Cayetano particularly cited the need for financial aid of thousands of private school teachers who are under a no-teach-no-pay setup.

The DepEd recently reported that 440 small private schools have suspended their operations for the school year 2020-2021 due to lack of enrollees.

"There are private school teachers who have not been receiving their salaries for more than five months. And they have to pay for rent, electricity, and now Internet. If you do not have a program for them, how will they survive this period?" Cayetano said.

He said Bayanihan 2 underscores the partnership with Government Financial Institutions (GFIs) in the provision of loan assistance, discounts, grants to schools, colleges, technical and vocational institutions, teachers, faculties and students.

The assistance is intended for the purchase of distance learning tools such as computers, laptops, tablets and other ICT devices and equipment necessary to conduct and access classes and learning materials under the alternate delivery modes of teaching and learning in the new normal.

The measure requires private schools, colleges, and universities to retain personnel complement and not engage in retrenchment of
employees for a period of nine months from the receipt of the grant.

"We see some of our private school teachers in the news who are left with little choice but to go out in the streets to sell different items to earn during this pandemic so we really pushed to include in Bayanihan 2 those provisions that will assist our distressed schools and teachers," Cayetano said.

The newly ratified measure directs the DepEd to realign the unused balance of the 2020 "New School Personnel Positions" and "Basic Education Facilities" appropriations to the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) for Operations of elementary, junior, and senior high schools for the hiring of teacher assistants and for the production or reproduction of modular learning materials for K-12.

"We need to continue investing in our education sector because it is vital for our students and teachers to adapt, innovate, and manage the challenges of the new normal. The House of the People will continue to coordinate with DepEd and CHED and listen to our students and teachers so we can address their concerns amid this pandemic," Cayetano said.