Protect, support teachers
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic squeeze have demanded so much from ordinary workers in terms of physical and financial challenges. Among those singularly burdened are public school teachers, who have made extraordinary sacrifices just to ensure that learners’ education would not be interrupted despite the suspension of in-person classes.
Teachers and students transitioned to blended or hybrid learning last year after schools were forced to temporarily shut down due to the health risks posed by the coronavirus. This system, introduced by the Department of Education (DepEd) last October, involves a mix of using modules and learning online through mobile devices, computers, TV, and radio sets. This meant additional duties for teachers such as producing distance learning episodes for television and radio platforms, and delivering the modules themselves to students’ doorsteps or DepEd pick-up sites, at constant risk to their health.
Other risks they face include having to attend face-to-face activities that could have been done virtually. For instance, two separate seminars in Iba, Zambales, were held over the period March 1-12; incredibly, these seminars were attended by at least 300 participants at a time when gatherings were highly discouraged. At least 28 were subsequently reported to have been infected — principals and teachers from different schools in the province, where overall COVID-19 cases rose to more than 1,000 as of March 16. The source of infection was traced to a co-worker and speaker at the activity.
The outbreak prompted the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition to appeal to the DepEd to strictly implement alternative work arrangements for teachers, stressing that the Zambales case was not an isolated one since some teachers are still required to go to school despite the suspension of physical classes, or are asked to conduct home visitation on top of the distribution and retrieval of modules.
Martina Cabilbigan, a teacher from Maguindanao, said in a Philippine News Agency report that her daily routine has not changed much despite the suspension of in-person classes. She still travels thrice a week from the city to her school in Datu Odin Sinsuat to deliver or retrieve her students’ learning modules. The threat of getting infected is ever-present as she takes commuter vans with fellow teachers for the hour-long travel.
“We fear the pandemic, but our obligation as teachers to our students does not hinder us to teach as it is the one thing that we love to do,” she said.
On top of worrying about getting COVID-19, a group of DepEd workers had to contend with another problem: delays in receiving compensation, this time for production work. Around 400 workers of production company Ei2 Tech, which had been tapped to produce episodes for DepEd TV’s distance education program, recently complained that they have either received incomplete pay or faced delays in getting their salary since September last year.
Several of them later learned that their contracts had been terminated without prior notice after they raised the issue. These workers, who are now mulling taking legal action against the firm owned by broadcast journalist Paolo Bediones, added that they were overworked and made to take additional tasks not mentioned in the contract, such as training teachers on scriptwriting and rendering lessons in different formats. The group of creatives has appealed to DepEd to take “moral responsibility” in compensating the workers, even if the department said it could not pay them directly since they were hired through a contractor.
More than 30 organizations are also pushing for the vaccination of 1.3 million teaching personnel to pave the way for the resumption of physical classes, pointing out that “learning has evidently regressed” with 2.7 million elementary students failing to enroll this year. They noted that in other countries, including Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia and Singapore, teachers are considered “essential workers” and have already started receiving vaccines.
Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo has filed a resolution that seeks to classify teachers as frontline workers who should get priority in the government’s vaccination program. Teachers, along with social workers, belong to the B1 group in the current order of prioritization, which means they can receive the vaccine only after frontline health workers, senior citizens, those with comorbidities, frontline personnel in essential sectors, and indigents.
“Teachers are risking their health and safety in order to ensure continuity in the delivery of education to Filipino learners because they necessarily step outside their homes and interact with people for the performance of their duties,” said Quimbo. Against these challenges, teachers have continued to perform frontline functions and give of themselves selflessly. The least the government can do is provide them adequate protection and support during this pandemic.
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