DepEd must reach out
When the Commission on Elections says it will be able to mobilize 60 million voters during election day, there is confidence this will be done. When the Department of Education (DepEd) says it will be ready for class opening on Aug. 24, there is much room for skepticism.
One reason for this is that there is no nationwide survey of the “digital divide,” on the extent to which students in various grades and places have online or distance learning capabilities. Without this survey, there is no real planning and implementation of blended learning that can occur.
If senators are skeptical that the DepEd will be ready by Aug. 24, it is for a good reason. The DepEd does not provide a detailed work program so the nation can assess its performance toward the Aug. 24 class opening. It tells us the training for distance learning for more than half of 800,000 teachers has yet to be completed, and the printing of self-learning modules for possibly 27 million students has yet to start in July.
The most worrisome indicator of the lack of preparedness of the DepEd for an Aug. 24 opening is its scheduled trial run just three weeks before the class opening. This means this trial run is merely a token one, and will not give time for the lessons learned and adjustments in the national system of blended learning. There is such a poor sense of program design and management. The DepEd must be realistic in appreciating the work to be done. It must adjust its deadline if necessary. The attitude seems to be, no time to do it right, but there will be time to do it over.
Meantime, the DepEd should reach out to a lot of players that can help, especially two major players. The first one are local governments. Over the past 16 years, the government has been promoting and organizing community e-centers (CECs) in municipalities and barangays throughout the country. CECs are online government portals designed to provide public access to government services. Many people have looked at these CECs as internet cafés operated by local governments, but they are designed to be more transformative. The idea was for a CEC to be present in every municipality. The CEC was supposed to provide connection and social engagement to these local governments. In 2007, there were already 755 CECs, increasing to 1,416 in 2011.
The e-centers have provided a variety of computer and online services that respond to the needs of specific localities. For instance, an e-center in Tanauan, Leyte, has been helping out-of-school youth get high school diplomas. The facility provides online lectures that enable the students to pass the high school equivalency examinations. Another CEC in Malvar, Batangas, offers free training on basic computer literacy and a host of other services like printing, internet browsing, CD burning, fax, and computer encoding.
In the scheme of blended learning, not only will CECs provide students with computer services and internet connectivity. They will also provide printing and other services not available from computers and smartphones.
The landscape of CECs has apparently withered—there are only a handful with web presence. Perhaps the idea of a CEC did not capture the imagination of communities. But some CECs were able to innovate and provide real services to their people that internet cafés cannot provide. In this time of COVID-19 and the necessity of blended learning, the CEC will perhaps get the functional boost it deserves.
The other player that the DepEd should reach out to is the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). In this campaign of government to transition to blended learning, where information and communication technology (ICT) plays a strategic part, I am puzzled by the very minor role the DICT is playing. The DICT is offering to provide Wi-Fi connections to public schools in Metro Manila, in addition to 78 schools already served. Is this all the DICT can contribute to a massive transformation to blended learning? It’s such a shame. I would imagine the DICT could organize internet cafés throughout the country to provide online learning facilities for students, using a voucher scheme. And maybe the DICT can help local governments set up and operate their CECs. Certainly, improving the weak ICT infrastructure will dramatically improve the blended learning program of government.
The transformation to blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic is a national endeavor, not merely a DepEd program. If the DepEd does not reach out, we all lose.
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