The Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), despite overwhelming calls for an academic freeze, pushed forward with the academic year. Even just a few weeks into the reopening of classes, we are already starting to see the effects of such a heartless and inhumane decision. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.
Even since March, when the shift to online learning first started, the flaws in the Philippines’ ICT infrastructure were already thrown wide open. Students all over the country struggled to stay connected even then, with poor internet connection preventing students from joining classes, some going to the extent of climbing mountains, crossing rivers, and staying in makeshift treehouses just to submit requirements and keep up with classmates.
Despite the shameless audacity of the claim of Information and Communications Secretary Gregorio Honasan II before a Senate committee that our internet speed is “not bad,” the numbers tell a different story. The 2020 Global Web Index notes that only 67 percent of the Philippine population has access to the internet. In addition, various studies have shown the mammoth broadband consumption of video conferencing platforms, with Zoom taking up 2.4GB per hour, and Google Meets taking up 1.4GB per hour. Adding this up, five hours a day of classes could cost students and teachers between P80 and P138; a price difficult to pay per day during a global pandemic. How much more if we add hours spent on research, papers, and other requirements?
The numbers do not make for much better reading when considering the population’s access to gadgets to even connect to the internet with. Of the 67 percent that have access to the internet, only 67 percent have access to laptop computers, while 40 percent have access to tablets. DepEd’s own specifications have a 2-in-1 tablet PC costing just over P15,000, with laptop computers costing even more, at nearly P36,000. The fact that DepEd and CHEd expects students to simply be able to cough up such amounts to keep up with their academics is damning.
Recent events have proven that this is no longer simply a matter of passing or failing, but a matter of life and death. Various horror stories have been told of students selling their nudes just to raise money to purchase the necessary devices. Worse still, Kristelyn Villance, a student from Capiz, was killed in a motorcycle accident precisely because of the poor internet connection in her area. This is not just making students perform poorly or causing them mental distress. This is costing them their lives.
The fact that such barriers exist in the first place should have been evidence enough that the education system is flat-out unprepared to reopen classes. CHEd, DepEd, and the national government wasted six full months to implement basic policies such as internet and gadget subsidies to guarantee access, but it seems that the political will needed to do so evaded them. Now, their failure has led to the current crisis: students and teachers in economic, mental and academic distress, and four lives lost and counting.
SPARK condemns the utter failure and lack of political will of the Duterte administration at even the most basic task of providing subsidies for gadgets and internet connections to students and teachers before reopening classes. The absence of such only fuels our campaign for academic freeze and justifies its correctness under the twin scourges of COVID-19 and economic recession.
We continue to demand that the resident of Malacañang Palace immediately issue an executive order to implement an academic freeze until January in order to avoid having even more students left behind by the utter debacle in the education system at present.
Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan
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