Written by Talia Araña and Fran Fabricante
Edited by Christiana Reyes
Graphics by Trasy Ipapo
“Ang education makakapaghintay ‘yan. Pero hindi ko pa [kayang] i-risk ang safety ng mga anak ko kapag lumabas na lang sila. Natatakot ako na baka mamaya pag-uwi nito galing sa school eh may COVID-19 na pala.”
(“Education can wait. I’m not risking the safety of my children when they go out. I fear if they attend school, they will come home infected with COVID-19.”)
This was the response of Richelle Bacelisco to Rappler regarding her open letter addressing the Secretary of the Department of Education, Leonor Briones. Bacelisco voiced out her concerns through a public Facebook post which garnered over 33,000 likes, 72,000 shares, and agreement from many parents.
BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT!
- Online classes are necessary for the current situation but do not consider students with lack of resources.
- #AcademicFreeze is one way to ensure that no student will be left behind; however, this is only a band-aid solution to our country’s problems.
- #LigtasNaBalikEskwela is a better alternative that includes the needs of teachers and staff and also encourages better, long-term plans of action.
- Other Southeast Asian countries were able to overcome the outbreak by prioritizing the needs of its healthcare system.
- The Philippine government should prioritize its health situation to ensure a safe return to school.
Due to the constant and rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the country, the return to regular classes is no longer safe for students. As an alternative, online classes are now ongoing. However, such a method of learning poses a lot of challenges for both students and teachers. Not only does it take a lot of adjustment, but it also requires reliable gadget accessibility, stable internet connection, and a comfortable home learning environment—things which are only available to the privileged few.
Because of this, there has been a rising demand for academic freeze.
Calls for such a plan of action have dominated Twitter several times under the hashtags #AcademicFreeze and #AcademicFreezeNOW, as well as #NoStudentLeftBehind.
The struggles of many students who were facing challenges such as disconnection from calls, lack of load for internet, and unavailability of gadgets were also repeatedly shared by many netizens. The unfortunate reality is that most, if not all students, are unprepared for online classes—not just in terms of accessibility, but also mental health.
Excessive media and technology use presented at the wrong time (age) or wrong manner can have negative effects.
This statement implies that the technology used today causes mood and long term changes in brain function and behavior. In addition, many netizens have also expressed their concerns regarding the exhaustion experienced due to excessive gadget use. Screen fatigue, lack of motivation, and unstable mental health are just some of the major concerns we have encountered since the start of online classes.
Remote learning is not as effective as face to face classes. Nothing can beat the school environment which serves as a conducive place for learning and a second home to students. But if students are experiencing difficulties in transitioning to online learning, then what about our teachers? Our teachers have been preparing our modules, fixing the learning management system, and discovering new ways to showcase how online learning could be just a little bit better. In some public schools, figuring out how to print modules for the entire school using just 2-4 printers is already a struggle on its own. Besides our frontline medical workers who are tirelessly working to save patients, our teachers serve as heroes, too. But in the case wherein academic freeze is implemented, what happens to them?
While online classes may pose a challenge to school teachers and staff, the loss of their livelihoods is something that they cannot afford. According to the Department of Labor and Employment, around 10 million jobs will be lost this year due to the pandemic. Academic freeze will only result in an even greater degree of unemployment in the country.
Another question for academic freeze is this—what happens after? An academic freeze might immediately solve the problem of those students who are left behind during online classes. However, this is just a temporary solution to the accessibility problem that the government, being unable to provide funds for online learning, wasn’t able to fix. If classes are suspended, how can we be sure that the government and respective agencies will continue to work to find solutions for the implementation of safe learning in our current situation? After all, we can’t just suspend classes and wait for the situation to fix itself.
All in all, academic freeze only serves as a band aid solution to all the education related problems we’ve encountered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a solution is temporary and does not address the root problem which is the poor management of the pandemic situation. This is why on the other side of the #AcademicFreeze movement, there is a call for #LigtasNaBalikEskwela, also known as a safe return to school.
Last July, members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines and the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) joined together in protest to push for more concrete plans for the opening of schools. They also led other education workers during the protest to register their demands for safe, accessible, and quality education. Members of the ACT also showcased umbrellas which bore their clamor for “Ligtas na Balik Eskwela”.
We march today for teachers and staff whose lives are endangered for the lack of safety nets, for millions of learners who will be left disenfranchised by an inaccessible learning program and for parents who are struggling to keep their families afloat amid the sinking economy.
ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio
These are words from ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio. He also stated the need for the government to provide a budget for the requirements of safe education.
During the time of the said protest, the country was only weeks away from the supposed school opening on August 24 with very little time to ensure that everyone was prepared for online learning. Ten days before the scheduled opening, the start of classes was suddenly moved to October 5. This should be enough time to prepare; however, there seems to be little to no improvement in the government’s plans for school opening.
Unfortunately, looking at our citation now, it seems as if there is no hope for students to return to physical classes by that time. However, several countries including our Southeast Asian neighbors have proved that it is possible for schools to open while following the proper safety protocol. Nevertheless, there must have been a degree of safety in those countries that made this possible. This can only happen through proper management of the COVID-19 situation.
For example, Vietnam is one country that serves as a prime example of taking proper action during this pandemic. Their experience with SARS in 2003 and avian influenza in 2004 and 2010 served as a wake up call to invest in their healthcare system.
The first case of COVID-19 in Vietnam was reported on January 23, 2020. Just a week after the confirmation of the first case, the Southeast Asian country formed a committee to talk about their strategy. As cases continued to rise in the US, UK, and other western countries in March, Vietnam went ahead by tracing and isolating those who just returned from those flights. By this time, Vietnam already created their own locally made COVID-19 test kits and made sure to identify, trace, lockdown, and test their people. Due to the country’s quick and organized response, they have effectively maximized their time and resources, but most importantly have been able to save their people.
Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 was also looked up to by many. Due to the controversial issue of the country’s state of independence, Taiwan was one of the countries left out in receiving firsthand information about the COVID-19 outbreak. However, this did not hinder the country and its leaders to create a strong plan for managing a pandemic. As one of the countries affected by the SARS outbreak, they also carried out a fast yet effective response to COVID-19. Easy access to testing centers, constant communication to the public, and organized 14-day quarantine procedures were just some of Taiwan’s responses to the pandemic. Most of all, it is their community mindedness that led them to beat COVID-19. Consequently, students in Taiwan, Vietnam, and many other countries who have also been able to manage the COVID-19 situation are now able to return to school.
If we can also push for concrete plans and solutions made by the government for our country’s quick return to our new normal lives, why would we still call for temporary solutions?
Just like Bacelisco, we all want our students to be safe from this virus. However, ensuring the safety of these students shouldn’t come at the cost of our education.
Filipinos deserve quality education.
Filipinos deserve a transparent government.
Filipinos deserve accessible healthcare.
Filipinos deserve support for frontliners and teachers.
Filipinos deserve competent leaders.
Filipinos deserve more.
This is a call for change.
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