|Photo from NY Times|
With the country’s PCR-based mass testing capacity not even available to all our workers, opening our schools this coming August is not only unsafe for our children but will also be very costly when alternative learning modalities are applied. The case of infected South Korean students and our own poor pandemic response raise many red flags on this issue.
First, on mass testing. Without the vaccine and our mass testing capacity stuck at minimal level, sending their children to school is a choice which is exceedingly difficult to decide for poor families who cannot even get free mass testing and adequate subsidies to secure their own health and economic survival at home. On the other hand, not enrolling when schools officially open in August places unnecessary pressure on both parents and students whose dreams of getting out of the poverty trap the soonest time possible through education remain high despite the pandemic.
Second, on transportation. The government did not even make provisions of shuttle services for their employees mandatory to all employers. Students from poor families rely on public transport and we see them battered daily by the violence of our mass transportation system. Adjusting to the new and reduced capacity of our mass transport system will further expose children and their mothers to more hazards. On the other hand, requiring them to be shuttled by service vehicles which rates are more expensive is too much of a burden for parents whose economic future are threatened by manifold crises due to this pandemic.
Third, on the physical setup. Our overcrowded schools need to be re-modelled first to ensure physical distancing and we have not yet seen any plan on how to do this in the remaining few weeks. Will it mean dividing the number of sections and classes and therefore extending the working hours of our teachers?
Fourth, on alternative learning modalities. E-learning or distance learning is a sound idea as long as the infrastructure for it is ready and universally accessible to all students of all classes, public and private. In fact, the time for distance learning has come several years earlier than the pandemic but it did only serve a privileged class of students enrolled in high end universities. Private schools may continue to offer this mode for capable students but for public schools, a universal online modality remains a wishful thinking at this point in time. To our knowledge, even our premier state university, the University of the Philippines, did not make online classes mandatory during the lockdown period because not all UP students and teachers have gadgets and access to reliable internet.
This online class divide can only be resolved if the state will provide free internet services to all barangays and online gadgets are made affordable to all households. Unfortunately, our national broadband capacity embedded in the power transmission lines is now under the control of the Chinese-run National Grid Corporation of the Philippines. To maximize its free use for educational purposes, the transmission system has to be re-nationalized, notwithstanding many other issues supporting the argument for its renationalization.
Education as a social good must be made universally accessible to all, including the new and advance systems of learning modalities. Otherwise, without system and infrastructure reforms, Philippine education in times of pandemics will stay as a model itself of social inequality that infected this nation for over a century now.
25 May 2020