With high-speed internet in the capital town of Virac still about a year away from being realized, the prospect of learning through on-line classes appear dim, not only for students but also among teachers.
No less than Catanduanes Schools Division Superintendent Dr. Danilo Despi has admitted that the blended learning program, with its loopholes and deficiencies, cannot substitute for the face-to-face engagement.
An initial survey has indicated that only 28 percent of pupils and 64 percent of teachers have smart phones or laptops that would enable them to access digital lessons.
This has, in fact, prompted the division office to do away with the usual activities associated with the Brigada Eskwela, that annual event in which teachers and parents contribute cash and materials to repair or repaint classrooms, provide electric fans or construct small projects.
Instead, Dr. Despi appeals, parents and other stakeholders should consider donating laptops, tablets, smartphones, wifi routers, and similar devices to provide digital access along with washable face masks, foot baths, disinfectants, and handwashing facilities as compliance with minimum health standards set by the Department of Health for public schools to become safe places for learning in the time of COVID-19.
The electronic devices would indeed be of vital importance if the blended learning program would achieve its goal.
But that is only half the story.
With the other 70 percent without such gadgets for internet connection, the bulk of the learning will have to be done by modular instruction, in which lessons will be compressed into modules to be distributed to pupils in each barangay.
The modules will have pre-tests and post-tests and are supposed to be read by the children, who will have to do the assigned tasks and answer the tests, with the help of their parents.
Such an ideal situation would not be available in a household where both parents work and are thus unavailable for the time the child is supposed to learn the lessons. The same goes for families where parents were not fortunate enough to finish even the elementary grades.
On the other hand, the cost of reproducing the modules would be considerable as there will be more or less two million learners in the entire Bicol region.
DepEd officials would have to realign funds for Maintenance & Other Operating Expenditures (MOOE) for the needed logistics.
The same problem is faced by officials at the Catanduanes State University (CatSU), where one college dean reportedly submitted an estimate of 16,000 reams of bond paper needed to make two modules per subject for the coming semester.
At about P200 per ream of long bond paper, the college would need a budget of P3.2 million for the module reproduction. And that is just for one college.
The university would have rethink its modular instruction focus, even as it deems on-line instruction not feasible on account of poor wifi signals.
Already, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has already allowed Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to conduct face-to-face sessions between lecturers and students in the upcoming school year, despite the continued spread of the coronavirus disease.
CHED Central Office’s Advisory No. 7, issued on May 24, adopted the approved recommendation of the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases in its Resolution No. 36 allowing face-to-face classes.
Specific class arrangements and minimum health standards will have to be implemented by the HEI, along with the limitation of the number of students in a class to 50 percent in compliance with physical distancing.
The advisory states that only schools with online enrollment facilities can open after May 31 and no HEI can open for face-to-face learning until August 31.
In Metro Manila, some big universities have announced that classes for the 2020-2021 school year will be conducted on-line, prompting some students, at least in this island, to request for a leave of absence for the meantime.
With tuition fees ranging from P60,000 to P130,000 per semester, they feel that they would not be able to learn as much as they would compared with actual classroom lessons where they can interact with the professor and their classmates.
It would be a waste of time and money, they stressed, if they would be forced to engage in online learning, even if the universities provide wifi gadgets and free internet access.
Indeed, these youths know online classes would not be possible with weak internet signals especially if majority of them connect to the network all at the same time.
On-line learning is only for countries with adequate internet infrastructure like Singapore, Korea, China, Thailand, and even Vietnam.
In the Philippines, where the lack of telecom towers has often been blamed on red tape in local government units, excessive permit requirements and chief executives demanding that the towers be built on their own properties, on-line learning would be a certified failure.