Trying time for teachers
Filipino teachers are confronting the most daunting times they’ve ever seen in the history of latter-day education in this country. On top of the long tedious hours, measly pay, and heavy workload in and out of the classroom that have become the lot of teachers in these parts, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the hoops they have to go through to do their job.
The opening of classes on Oct. 5 presented Filipino teachers their biggest challenge yet: how to conduct classes in the midst of a still-uncontained pandemic. The government’s solution has been “blended learning”—a combination of written modules, online classes, and lessons aired via radio and television. To prepare for this yet untried learning modality, the opening of classes had been pushed back thrice—from June to August and finally to October.
With classes resuming despite the virus, Education Secretary Leonor Briones on Monday claimed “victory,” saying that learning has to go on, imperfect though the preparations may be. In fact, she crowed, the agency managed “to overhaul the system in less than six months and (was) able to surpass (its) initial target of enrollees.” Briones was elated to report that there were about 24.7 million enrollees this year, just three million short of the 27.8 million enrollees last year. “It’s all very encouraging and inspiring,” she enthused.
But, as pointed out by several sectors, isn’t that a premature pronouncement? The ACT-Teachers party list quickly called out the Department of Education for its “outright denial of problems” on the ground. Indeed, a brief review of this week’s class opening reveals the raft of challenges facing students, parents, and teachers in the strange new environment of a pandemic school year.
Foremost of these is poor internet connectivity, with class sessions disrupted by weak or nonexistent signals especially in remote areas. A social media post graphically illustrated the problem: Several teachers had to clamber up the rooftop of their school to try to boost the weak signal in their gadgets. Those gadgets, too—smart phones, iPad, computers—have remained out of reach for many students whose parents barely make a living, what with companies closing down and retrenching workers.
While printed modules present a viable alternative, they have yet to reach all of their intended audiences. The lack of a DepEd delivery infrastructure has left many teachers with the grueling task of personally delivering the modules to the homes of students, on top of their teaching load.
Online teaching has also exacted a stiff price from teachers, who have yet to receive the DepEd’s promised connectivity allowance for SIM cards, Wi-Fi expenses, smartphone load, and data charges. With at least six hours on board teaching several grade levels, public school teachers are forced to spend a hefty sum to keep online sessions going.
As if that were not enough responsibility, teachers have also taken it upon themselves to coach parents on how to guide their children through their lessons using the printed modules. Per a report in this paper, many parents have confessed to feeling inadequate and ill-prepared for this new role, with some of them admitting to limited schooling and a total lack of background in technology and gadgets.
The new learning platform definitely expects a lot from teachers. Yet there has hardly been talk of increased compensation for the extra load they now must assume as mentors to both parents and students.
In fact, in what could only be described as sheer ignorance and brazen insensitivity, Cagayan Gov. Manny Mamba had the gall to suggest trimming the salaries of teachers because, according to him, “nage-enjoy sila, nagsu-sweldo sila, wala silang ginagawa.” They shouldn’t be complaining, he said, because he thinks there is a law that says if one works from home, “tatanggalan (ng sahod) ng kaunti.” Mamba was forced to apologize after he was thoroughly chastised online for his post.
According to the DepEd, more than 700 private schools have closed down, leaving their teachers to join the millions rendered jobless over the last wrenching months. For those who’ve managed to hold on to their jobs, a lot of fixing and stepping up need to be done, and not just on their sector’s side: Telcos, for one, must improve their internet services, while local government units should see it as their duty to assist in the delivery of learning modules and find funding in their budget to acquire gadgets for households that can’t afford them, the way Pasig City has done.
In this extraordinary time of transition and instability, teachers, as much as students and parents, need all the support they can get. There is no “victory” to be claimed if the country’s hard-pressed educators, the virtual backbone of the government’s new learning game plan, are ironically left behind.
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