Let’s Talk About Getting an/on Education?!

Candles of anticipation on the commencement of classes (on August 24, 2020) for Department of Education (DepEd)-mandated schools were blown cold a week before virtual classrooms and printed modules are even opened with a correspondence (dated August 14, 2020) from the Office of the President (OP) [addressed to the DepEd Secretary] dousing the flames of the much delayed first salvo of “Sulong Edukalidad” (Forward Quality Education).

Technically, this delay should not be considered as such since Philippine Congress has ratified a law altering the usual date range of school opening. In fact, in the old legislation, August 24 (the supposed set date) is not yet late as the longstanding legal guideline instructs that DepEd schools may open as early as the first Monday of June or the last week of August (every year).

However, the more vital apprehension here is if public education is ready for the “New Normal” push with the pandemic further exposing the holes (critical concerns) that must be plugged but not with Band-Aid solutions.

Not to sound too hypocrite, as a public school teacher under dear government’s payroll, I must commit myself to education’s almighty cause in addressing the lingering inadequacies and in attempting to reach apparently unreachable goals according to (the relative) budgetary provision (err…constraint) that should have been the biggest based on our much heralded Constitution.

Undeniably, like other administrative agencies in the country, DepEd is moving heaven and Earth to instigate progressive modifications labelling flagship programs (one after the other) with the most arresting names that, most often than not, take our collective breath away. A little while later, we’re slammed back to land; minds perplexed; baffled why the initiatives didn’t fly; eyes strained from the documentary gobbledygook; concluding that everything was projected as rocket science.

Indeed, the agency can’t be faulted for flexing their creative muscles as their primary objective is to sway the powers-that-be that they’re leaving no stones unturned in seeking ways to utilize taxpayers’ money for public (education’s) good (or best). Perhaps, in getting on the good side of their recognized boss(es), they got mixed up with their genuine mandate which is to up the quality of education by looking into and assessing the most essential learning competencies (MELCs) of students, teachers and principals. This unenviable task has been much debated on since time immemorial because as American public education advocate Jamie Vollmer succinctly put it, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” (also the title of his 2010 copyrighted book).

From bottom to top (from parents/families—teachers/principals—other stakeholders—DepEd [Secretary]—to the President of the Republic), labor must be divided appropriately. Once a singular component is corrupted, the whole machine malfunctions. It doesn’t escape one’s psyche that this issue on corruption comes in all shapes and sizes. All management systems are vulnerable to it. The way I see it, the only way this menace can be defeated is for good men not to turn a blind eye on it—and more—to do something about it. Of course, good men would cry out that they’re limited in their capacities since they don’t want to get particularly involved on matters above their pay grade(s) as those in leadership positions, themselves, only take notice of “dirt bags” from people not in their powerful social circles. If you are given access to be exclusively affiliated, you get a front row seat to the annihilation of your independent rival(s) whose brainwaves collide with yours. Well, that’s the sad reality. But, there’s good news. A few good men still remain. Or, positive thinking reverses everything—only a few remaining evil individuals live among us. So, the call for vigilance and proactive-ness has never been this loud. Hence, everyone must be on the same page, wholly embracing the holistic approach in setting up the entire Philippine educational mechanism for success.

Going to specifics (aka critical concerns), DepEd schools would be hard pressed to negotiate the widening gap between the “Digital Divide” that separates the poor from the very poor. I actually salute (other) local government units (LGUs) [City/Municipal Mayors] for shouldering the material needs (laptops, tablets, wifi (data) connection) of learners/teachers in their areas. Maybe, they’re simply giving something out of their special budgetary allotments and not taking anything away from their precious pockets but, at least, they’re honest enough to shed the extra funds since deciding on donating the money for education’s purpose doesn’t exempt them from filling out the proper liquidation forms for auditing. I also read that the General Appropriations Act for 2021 will deliver humongous amounts of dough to DepEd’s war chest with President Duterte prodding Congress to pump in resources in support of the blended (distance) learning schemes.

Instinctively, schools are now in a mad dash to secure the self-learning modules in time for the October 5 (2020) OP-directed restart. As reported by Secretary Leonor Briones during a Malacañang press briefing on August 13, 2020, there is a 95.57% registration turnout (21.5 million students) for School Year (SY) 2020-2021 compared to previous year’s enrolment data. I’ll try my best to do the math. If about 15 million of these enrolees opt for the Modular Distance Learning (MDL) modality, then 15 million sets of modules are required (to be printed). One lesson of each subject module comprises 15-20 pages. There are approximately 4-5 lessons per quarter with 2 quarters per semester. Mind you, this is actually cut down to a significant quantity since the release of MELCs which DepEd took pains to identify. By the way, the numbers I shared are only for Senior High School. Trimmed down or not, these competencies prove dizzying to count much more in the Elementary and Junior High School levels. And, yes, the assets needed for Online Distance Learning (ODL) are off the charts and are not yet even mentioned in the equation—an obvious reason why the LGUs are requested (required) to lend a hand (piece of their treasuries).

In a Senate inquiry held on August 13 (2020), the education department stated that (only) 82 out of 214 school division offices (SDOs) are done with printing 50% of the modules required for the 1st Quarter of SY 2020-2021. “The remaining 132 SDOs have printed less than half of the 1st Quarter requirement,” with the details reported in The Philippine Star.

Implication. (Non) readiness in crunch time as expected in the rush of it all, this situation is no joke. Truckloads of cash are a pre-requisite to make this “Educational New Normal” work. Come to think of it, government coffers seem to never run dry with, once again, Sec. Briones proclaiming to the nation that “blended learning dry run (was) a success in 500 schools.”

Hoping against hope, people’s trust in (a) God dictates them to believe in their leaders.

Priests and preachers may try praying for God to bless us all with the optimism of a Cabinet member to see through all the negatives amidst the visibly intensifying (COVID-19) positivity rate in our country.

At the back of my mind, why do I feel that I should just shut up if I still want to have a decent job by tomorrow or risk unemployment similar to the more or less 10% of Filipinos who fight tooth and nail for daily survival against the backdrop of a pandemic?

It’s a no-brainer, right?

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