Covid-19 modular/online classes feared could lead to stunted young population

Posted October 9, 2020

The school year 2020-2021 for public basic education finally got started last October 5, but things are not all rosy as what the Department of Education (DepED) claims. It is feared that the lack of devices and materials for online or modular classes could lead to a “lost generation.”

Based on early observations, the teaching method being used to replace the face-to-face interaction between teacher and students, at least in the cities, is a combination of what is described as “modular” and online teaching.

In some schools, the students are given hard copies of teaching modules which are picked up by the parents from the school premises. In other schools, the modules are sent through the cell phone of the parents who print them in hard copies. The modules contain the reading materials and ordinary school supplies of the student.

The students follow a fixed duration of continuous class hours. The teacher goes on-line for lecture and student recitations. Generally, the screen time for students depends on the grade level as follows: one hour for kindergarten; 1.5 hours for Grade 1-5; two hours for Grade 6-8; and  four hours for Grade 9-12.

To enable the students to participate, the students are given some means that quite likely vary from LGU (local government unit) to LGU.

Some LGUs provide tablets, but the devices being distributed are very much insufficient. Those students who do not get such kind of hardware are instead given prepaid SIM cards but without a cellphone and therefore such students have to procure the cellphones by themselves.

Ben Punongbayan, Chairman and Founder of Buklod, a national political party, expressed that it is commendable that the government is doing something to continue the education of our young people under the current Covid-19 contagion.

However, there is clearly a very insufficient supply of hardware, such as cellphones, tablets and computers, for the use of the students. This is aside from other infrastructure problems such as connectivity.

Such lack gives undue pressure on the parents to procure the necessary hardware. If they cannot afford to buy one, their children may have either to drop out of school or find other alternatives of getting access to a learning hardware.

There are at least two alternatives that parents seem to be trying to do during this early period of schooling. One is to permit their son or daughter to go join a classmate with the required hardware. Another alternative is to allow their son or daughter to go to a relative’s or friend’s house during the school hours so they can use a smartphone to which the government-supplied SIM card is embedded.

In both of these alternatives, the very purpose of isolating the students to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is clearly not served. Those students who share the hardware or go to another house to borrow the use of one are clearly exposed to infection.

Punongbayan stressed that it is the state’s policy to provide free elementary and high school education. It is therefore incumbent upon both the national and local governments to provide free use of learning hardware to each and every student.

If the agreement between the national government and the LGU is that the local government must provide the hardware, then by all means the local governments must provide one for each and every student, Punongbayan said.  If the LGU is not able to do so, then the national government must provide it and the equivalent cost deducted from the LGU’s Internal Revenue Allotment, he added.

The education and nutrition of our children, even under the present Covid-19 condition, must always be given the most serious and priority attention by both the national and local governments, Punongbayan added.

But aside from this educational necessity, the pandemic has also compounded the nutrition of the young students considering that under the public school system they are provided school meals.

Punongbayan hopes that the DepEd and the local governments will continue providing free meals to the elementary students since they are the ones vulnerable to under- and malnutrition.

He feels that this Covid-19 pandemic may be bringing the country to an educationally lost generation and a stunted and wasted young population.

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