Instead of pushing thru the resumption of classes ACT urged DepEd to use pandemic time to build safe schools, fill in educ shortages, bridge learning gaps.
The ‘no vaccine, no school opening’ call is understandable coming from parents and even from education workers, as this is indicative of their lack of safety and security amid the government’s unsuccessful attempts to combat COVID-19. It’s a totally different matter to hear the same from President Duterte, who no less demanded for emergency powers and was granted such by Congress and who have gathered billions in funds to address the pandemic, as it implies that the government plans to passively wait for a vaccine instead of exhausting measures to address the health and socio-economic crisis.
Thus the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines forwards that the government execute a thoroughgoing effort to effectively combat COVID-19 so that the situation may be favorable for a safe school opening. Instead of idly and indefinitely waiting for a vaccine, the government shall make productive use of its time and the people’s resources on increasing the resiliency of our education system by building safe schools, addressing perennial shortages in personnel, facilities, equipment, and learning resources, and filling in gaps in learning. Likewise, learning must continue even without an official school year.
Building safe schools
The health and socio-economic crisis in the country, worsened by the COVID-19, has exposed the many weaknesses of our education system due to years of state neglect, as evidenced for instance by the PISA 2019 result. Hence the urgent need to strengthen the education system.
The Duterte administration is now challenged to address the array of problems in school safety and security, and education delivery and quality.
Facilities and equipment need to be significantly funded for schools to have basic sanitation and health necessities such as clinics with sufficient supplies and equipment, functional lavatories, steady supply of water, proper ventilations in classrooms, and reliable infrastructure for various learning modalities, among others.
The government shall address the shortages in schools and classrooms to accommodate millions of learners, while allowing them to observe a four-meter radius distancing to lower the risk of disease outbreaks. More teachers and staff shall also be employed and provided commensurate salaries and benefits, while also ensuring a proper working and learning environment for education workers and students.
Education support personnel remain scant at the school level, forcing teachers to take on tasks beyond teaching. For schools to function optimally, the government shall also employ nurses, clerks, and utility workers at the school level, especially as we work towards building pandemic-resilient schools.
Bridging gaps in educ system
The parameters for safe schools also address the problems in education access and quality brought about by shortages in facilities and personnel. Likewise, this opportune time shall also be utilized to address the ever-inadequate teaching and learning resources and its quality improved significantly.
Instead of imposing a hastily revised K to 12 curriculum, DepEd should make use of this time to open to educators and stakeholders the K to 12 curriculum for a democratic review. This will be an important and exhaustive undertaking for educators at this time.
Learning continuity: voluntary enrichment program vs formal school year
Learning opportunities shall be made available even without a formal school year through a voluntary distance enrichment program to provide advanced or remedial classes, depending on the needs of learners. This alternative mode will prevent leaving students behind if a formal school year is opened amid a pandemic. It will further be crucial in bridging gaps in learning, like the literacy crisis among students, due to the years of the problematic K to 12 curriculum and other practices at schools, such as mass promotion.
These can be done through online, multimedia, and/or modular approaches, which will entail significant infrastructural support from the government and availability and accessibility of materials to parents and learners.
However, due to the persisting threat of COVID-19, education workers shall not be forced officially or by circumstance to physically report for work without systematic mass testing and sufficient safety nets. Hence, laptops, internet allowance, and other such needs for distance working shall be provided.
The need for a rigorous, scientific, and rights-based comprehensive approach to the pandemic remains critical. Public health care shall be further strengthened to effectively combat COVID-19 through the reinforcement of health workers, sufficient compensation and protection, augmenting of health facilities, conducting systematic mass testing, increasing our testing and processing capacities, among others.
Equally important in this fight is the sufficient and immediate provision of aid to impoverished Filipinos and displaced workers and sectors, which include the private education sector. It is our urgent demand that affected private school teachers be granted a P10,000 financial aid and those who have been or will be laid off due to school closures be absorbed in the public sector as they will be direly needed in the enhancement endeavors of the public education system. Likewise, small private schools shall accordingly aided by the government.
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