VICE President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo has urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to realign about P30 billion of its budget to support distance learning.
In a letter addressed to Education Secretary Leonor Briones, a copy of which SunStar acquired on Thursday, August 13, 2020, Robredo said P29.5 billion of DepEd’s 2020 budget was allocated for the rehabilitation of school buildings while P700 million was set aside for the in-service training of teachers.
As DepEd implements distance learning in lieu of face-to-face instruction, Robredo said these funds should be realigned to support distance learning.
She said the P29.5 billion earmarked for school buildings may be used to procure gadgets and equipment that teachers need for distance learning while the P700-million fund for training may be used to fund testing for teachers.
“Given the shift to distance learning, many of these school buildings will be left without children to occupy them, thus deprioritizing the need for the rehabilitation of physical spaces,” Robredo said.
The Vice President also said DepEd must set up a Covid-19 mass testing mechanism specifically for teachers, set aside sufficient funds for physical check-ups of teachers, ensure that teachers have the right materials and personal protective equipment (PPE), ensure that hazard pay reaches the teachers regularly and on time, and create a system to address the health and wellness of teachers.
In a public briefing aired on Thursday, Briones said DepEd will follow the protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases on mass testing for teachers.
“Ang DepEd ay bahagi ng kabuuang sistema ng government, kaya kung ano man ang sinabing policy ng IATF sa issue ng mass testing, kami ay sumusunod, pero we are taking every precaution,” Briones said.
Robredo said that different sectors - teachers, education experts and advocates - have already reached out to present their input and recommendations for the next school year.
She noted that there has been a “lack of clear operational directives” on distance learning, drawing concerns from teachers who are tasked to implement it.
Robredo said some teachers have reported that they have not received the learning modules promised by DepEd.
“There is a need to cascade information in a more efficient manner, given that some teachers have expressed that they have yet to receive these modules,” she said.
She also pointed out that 61 percent or around 14 million households nationwide do not have access to the internet.
Around 74 percent, or 34,700 schools, do not have the capacity to engage in online learning.
“While we understand that the Department has set up the DepEd Commons learning platform for students to access lessons on their own, we have received reports that only seven million students have so far subscribed to this platform,” she said.
This is just roughly a third, or 35 percent, of the estimated 20 million public school students in the Philippines.
Robredo also echoed the concerns of teachers who said that they were still waiting for DepEd’s “concrete plans” on health amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“These anxieties are becoming more pronounced given that they, too, will be among our frontliners when the school year opens,” she said.
For private school institutions, Robredo said that teachers have raised concerns regarding the agency’s “many requirements” for learning continuity.
“These non-negotiable minimum requirements for online or distance learning include 24-hour technical support, helpdesk personnel to answer teacher and students queries, and the publication in their platforms of fully-detailed modules and plans,” Robredo said.
“This is burdensome given the dynamic nature of the teaching-learning process, especially at a time of great adjustment for educational institutions, many of who are facing dwindling enrollment, and whose teachers do not all have the same degree of competence to deliver in the online mode,” she added.
Briones said DepEd remains faithful in providing hazard pay for teachers.
“Hindi kami pumapalya sa pagbabayad ng benepisyo, ng sweldo, lahat ng benefits, which our teachers have been continuously receiving - 12 months a year ‘yan,” she said.
Despite calls for an academic freeze, Briones said DepEd is confident that the blended learning strategy it has set up will work when classes open on August 24, 2020. (SunStar Philippines)