CLASS OF COVID-19: Confronting pandemic and digital divide in education


Due to the continuous spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), more and more schools are beginning to shift to a non-traditional approach of teaching. And while the aim to continuously provide children with the right to education is an honorable act, others also invite Filipinos to take a step back and analyze the effects of the shift. Some even argue that an “academic freeze” may be necessary for as long as citizens are still working towards flattening the curve and waiting for a vaccine.

Nevertheless, the Department of Education (DepEd) continues to push for strengthening its efforts to minimize the further suspension of classes through remote learning strategies. They further state that this also eases parents and teachers towards settling into the new normal learning environment.

Meanwhile, a few point out that offsite solutions, both online and offline, only favor families in privilege who aren’t struggling to put food on the table. Now, questions arise regarding the feasibility and effectiveness of these solutions, as well as the country’s current priorities.


Previously In The Philippines

As the number of cases slowly increased during the year’s first few months, classes have been suspended nationwide. Likewise, most commencement exercises and moving up ceremonies throughout the country have been canceled. Both decisions were made in accordance with the Inter-Agency Task Force’s “no mass gathering” policy.

Nevertheless, Daanghari Elementary School celebrated its 44th commencement exercises via its first “cyber-graduation” using robots that displayed images of the graduates. A small team then operated the robots in order to receive their diplomas. It’s also worth noting that students also pre-recorded their messages in order to virtually participate while the ceremony was streamed live on the city’s Facebook page.


The Downsides of Closing Schools

While necessary, the lack of physical schools to send children presents its own challenges. Here are a few consequences to delaying the opening of classes for students nationwide:

Strain in childcare and the overall family dynamic

More often than not, parents and other primary caregivers send their children to school before going to work. This is often done as leaving children alone without supervision increases the risks that they may be exposed to or suffer from the effects of substance abuse and peer pressure. However, without the ability to do so, they may be forced to adjust their work-life routine in order to accommodate caring for their child throughout the entire day. In more unfortunate scenarios, working parents are more likely to miss work completely. This then leads to a loss in the household’s income—a problem that easily brings more issues along with it.

Parents, Guardians, and Caregivers

While some families may find homeschooling beneficial, it may especially be overwhelming to households who could not prepare ahead of time. For instance, some parents may not be equipped with the right learning materials required for the given curricula. Moreover, they also need to invest time into thoroughly understanding the curricula before teaching children. This may potentially delay learning or contribute to a change of pace in comparison to traditional learning.


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Closing schools doesn’t only take away from the youth’s opportunity for education. In fact, this also prevents most children from experiencing social interactions in a safe environment, prompting them towards social isolation. Furthermore, the interrupted learning process may contribute to the risks of having more students dropout when schools reopen.


Given the implementation of distance learning solutions, schools are closing their gates and teachers are being forced to adapt to the current situation. More tech-savvy individuals may be used to this. However, it’s important to note that it may be the first time for others to encounter video-conferencing, file sharing, and screen sharing, among other technologies. And while the learning curve varies among teachers, there’s no denying that this can impact their performance, and consequently, their learners’ experience.


Alternative Learning Methods

According to Education Secretary Leonor Briones, distance or blended learning, or the combination of online and in-person delivery learning methods, is not new to the Philippines. Following this approach, the learners’ printed or digital modules will be sent to students’ homes or alternatively placed in specific pick-up places for parents. These will be used hand in hand with “DepEd Commons”, an online learning resource, and radio or television-based lessons.

Briones says, “We have been doing distance learning or blended learning for decades and decades, and we even have a university, [the University of the Philippines], which [has been specializing] in distance education for the longest time.” She continues, “We just don’t notice it because we are used to face-to-face learning, but since it’s not possible to do it now, then we have to think and look at the existing mechanisms.”


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Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the success of following this method is still heavily impacted by the households’ economic status. While survey results indicate that a significant number of learners and teachers have access to information communications technology (ICT) devices, pushing through with this method further excludes those who do not. Furthermore, academic institutions that intend to provide these devices face the added challenge of working around the possible lack of home internet connectivity.


Current Status Report

Filipinos throughout the country have been enrolling remotely via alternative communication methods (from texts to online messaging) since June 1. Additionally, parents without access to these methods have been given opportunities to pick up and submit a Learner Enrollment Survey Form (LESF) at kiosks and drop boxes located in schools and barangay halls. According to DepEd’s June 27 report, there are currently 15,182,075 enrollees for SY 2020-2021. These include students for Kindergarten to Grade 12, non-graded learners with disabilities, and learners of the Alternative Learning System (ALS).

While remote enrollment ends on June 30, DepEd has decided to open the school year on August 24. Learners will be provided pre-opening assignments such as orientations on alternative learning delivery modalities, and psychosocial and mental health support activities. These will be counted towards the school year’s class days before it ends on April 30 of the following year.

Meanwhile, the National Privacy Commission has recently initiated a Code of Conduct to guide schools and enable school management, teachers, students, and parents to cultivate a data privacy-conscious environment, especially as most activities are done online amid the quarantine.


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