‘Diskarte’ and student struggles
Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve gotten used to seeing petitions for help on social media. “Sana po mapansin niyo,” the pleas often begin in our inboxes or as comments on public posts, along with details of the user’s difficulties — a relative in the hospital, a breadwinner who has lost their job — and their GCash or other bank details.
Recently, petitions for help have taken a turn, with more and more students asking for help to continue schooling. When community quarantine began and students needed to adapt to distance learning, many problems quickly became apparent: poor or no internet access, a need for smart gadgets for accessing teleconferencing and exam platforms, not to mention a general swoop of the Filipino household’s income in the last few months, with students struggling with hunger even as they struggle with online classes. Who can forget the news of a Mapua student climbing a mountain in search of an internet connection to send a class requirement? Who wasn’t touched by the photo of a lola scraping her coins together to buy a smartphone? The burden rests, too, on harried parents who must balance maintaining their households with tutoring their children, and teachers who also struggle with internet access problems and the new paradigm of online classes. Distance learning was always going to be a challenge, with low-income families being the hardest hit, as usual.
Now, as students prepare for the beginning of classes next month, we’ve been told that schools will be implementing “blended” learning in various, flexible ways—through online classes, printed modules, and classes broadcast through television and radio. Not all of these, we are assured, will require internet access, and schools and communities will be adjusting to their students’ needs accordingly. As Education Secretary Leonor Briones said last week, “Kanya-kanyang diskarte, kanya-kanyang adjust.”
These are statements that look good on paper, but a scroll through social media shows that the experience of many students varies. On Twitter, Facebook and anonymous chat site Omegle, there are more and more students asking for financial assistance so they can access the internet; so they can buy a smartphone, tablet or laptop; or so they can enroll. One Twitter user complained that buying P50 of prepaid load to use for cellular data might not even be enough to finish one Zoom-based class. To avoid accusations of scamming, some have attached photos of their grades and credentials. The Twitter account @pisoparasalaptop has helped to collate many of these fundraisers for individual students by retweeting them. The number of posts grows by the hundreds daily, showing just how many students seek to continue their education but don’t have the means to do so. A quick search of #AcademicFreeze might help the reader hear the sentiments of students, teachers, and parents who cry that no student should be left behind as the new academic year begins.
The hustle, as the kids say, is real: Online selling has boomed since the pandemic began as families find ways to augment their incomes, and student learners sell goods and services to prepare for schooling. Some seek to barter goods for secondhand phones and laptops. Some have taken to online selling or art commissions. More disturbingly, some students have taken to sending discreet messages offering nude photos or videos in exchange for money. One prays that these efforts are not being made by minors.
I don’t believe that this is the kind of “diskarte” Briones had in mind, but it’s a reality all the same, that with limited opportunities to earn money for school, some students have had to manage on their own. “Napakaliit talaga ng epekto ng COVID-19 sa mga bata,” Briones said earlier this month, citing the small proportion of COVID-19 deaths in children. If we take a moment to listen to our most vulnerable youth, however, we might find that the effect isn’t small at all, and that the youth, even without contracting the disease itself, suffer greatly during the pandemic, too.
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