Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Thursday said Filipino students, especially those who are studying in public schools, should not be obliged to purchase gadgets in order to participate in distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We should not force our students to go online. Kung talagang mahal—alam natin ang public school natin caters to the poorest of the poor, marami tayong mga public school—huwag natin pipilitin ang mga students bumili ng gadgets, bumili ng load, bumili ng laptop, tablets, kung hindi nila kaya," Gatchalian said in a virtual interview.
"Sa distance learning, puwede namang magturo pa rin gamit ang modules na ide-deliver sa bahay nila," he added.
On Wednesday, the Department of Education-Bicol Region said the office has been informed that a learner in Sto. Domingo, Albay took his life after allegedly being distressed regarding "online classes."
"We are deeply saddened of this tragic incident. The victim, was a 19-year-old Balik-Aral learner of Santo Domingo National High School who was supposedly scheduled to enroll in Grade 9 come June 24, 2020," DepEd regional director Gilbert Sadsad said in a statement.
The DepEd official said that while their office had been relentless in informing the public that blended and flexible forms of learning will be implemented, they cannot discount the "extreme vulnerability" of learners to depression and emotional breakdowns.
"We will see to it that before the opening of classes in August 24, proper psycho-social activities will be provided to our learners, teachers, and personnel to ensure a sound mental and emotional condition as we continue to adapt with the challenges brought about by COVID-19 pandemic," Sadsad added.
Subsequently, the DepEd Bicol announced that it has released a memorandum reminding school heads, teachers, and school personnel to "refrain from requiring learners to purchase gadgets and other ICT equipment" for remote enrollment and learning.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has earlier warned that the poor will be at a disadvantage if "virtual" classes will be implemented.
Gatchalian said distributing radios to the students is one way to complement the printed modules that will be handed out by the DepEd.
"I think the stop gap measure would be buying radios... Naniniwala ako na TV and radio pa rin ang pinakamalawak sa ating bansa at 'yan din ang pinaka-affordable because one radio would cost P200 to P300," he said.
"By July 15, Deped will already finalize its TV-radio modules, so, as a stop gap measure, parang pantawid na lang, we can distribute radios to the students. At least mayroon silang gagamitin to supplement their learning," he added.
President Rodrigo Duterte recently said he would look for funds to buy radios to far-flung areas as the country transitions to alternative modes of learning amid the health crisis.
Gatchalian reiterated that he is against "academic freeze" or postponement of classes for a long period of time as he pointed out that this will only widen the gap between the well-off and marginalized learners.
"I would say there's a fighting chance to learn something decent, and to learn what they have to learn at the minimal level as opposed to wala tayong gagawin, wala talaga," he said.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said textbooks should still be provided sans face-to-face classes.
“Kung wala na ngang laptop, wala pang signal, tapos wala pang libro, eh paano na ang mga bata?” he said in a statement.
"The ones public school students are using cost as little as P50. Kung may perang pang transistor radios, dapat mayroon ding pang libro,” he added.
Recto, however, acknowledged that DepEd will need more funding to achieve the desired 1:1 book-to-learner ratio.
According to him, the budget for textbooks this year is only P963 million, half of last year’s P1.8 billion.
"'Yung budget ng DepEd, kinaltasan ng halos P8 billion at inialay sa laban sa COVID. Eh di ibalik 'yung parte nito para sa libro at mga programang kailangan ng 27.2 million na kabataang Pilipino para sa ‘blended education’ nila," he said.
Recto was referring to the DepEd's budget that was realigned to COVID-19 response, pursuant to the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.—AOL, GMA News