MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine education system is struggling to adapt to the sudden and major shift to distance learning during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Department of Education (DepEd) delayed the opening of the school year and offered Self-Learning Modules to students at home. Authorities pledged to provide distance learning access for all students, whether through radio, television, modular, or online tools.

President Rodrigo Duterte had previously announced that face-to-face classes are not an option until a vaccine is introduced, given that the number of cases continues to spike. Despite DepEd’s assurance that every student should be able to handle the new form of learning, difficulties arise for those who lack resources.

Tenth grader Twinkle Claire Agraviador said that although she opted for modular learning (printed format given to students who don’t have internet access), some subjects require online research.

“My parents cannot afford to buy a laptop or a cellphone,” she told The News Lens. “I have to go to a computer shop to do the research and I would need P50 [US$1] to pay for it, which is already a huge amount for us. It’s hard.”


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

Rita Ugal helps her son Esmael with school work, while siblings Shaina and Yuki Ugal attend online classes in their shanty home in Tondo, Manila, Philippines, October 6, 2020.

Twinkle’s parents have no regular jobs and the “new normal” is harder than expected. The money for her computer shop visit is enough to buy a kilogram of rice, she said.

In the province of Albay, South of Manila, 19-year-old Ricky Benig reportedly killed himself because of worries about causing a financial burden to his parents.

In the wake of the news, DepEd reiterated that online learning isn’t the only alternative for students.

Most public school students come from less privileged families, and their mental health has become a major concern during this period of transition. Some regional school heads suggested that the DepEd should provide mental health programs along with the learning modules

Families who have more disposable income find themselves in a more fortunate situation, but online learning still proves to be difficult. Entrepreneur Andrea Gabales’s son is continuing his study online through a private school in Cebu. While gadget availability is not a problem for Gabale’s family, the country’s infrastructure is not ready for distance learning.

“The only wrinkle to online learning is the intermittent internet connectivity in the country,” she said. “When there is an internet outage, my son’s classes are canceled too.”


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

A teacher answers a call from a student in need of assistance on distance learning through a hotline program in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 7, 2020.

Classrooms remain empty during the outbreak, but teachers are working hard to deliver quality education to students. Some teachers have to travel to remote areas to drop off the printed modules for their students. Parents sometimes have to step in to assist their children in their paper works.

Ana Erica Avanceña, a secondary school teacher, said the DepEd’s modalities have been working well.

“If we look at the modalities plainly, [they] are pretty plausible,” she told The News Lens. “But we should take into great consideration the means of bringing these modalities to the main beneficiaries, the medium of instruction, the people who will be the stand-in teachers.”

Avanceña, a teacher broadcaster for the DepEd, said that education is vital despite these unusual challenges. “I understand that we all get tired,” she said. “Just take a breather.”

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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