Expressing his concern for students and their families who cannot afford to pay tuition fees due to the ill economic effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Senator Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go called on schools, universities and other educational institutions to provide flexible payment arrangements for school fees to ensure their continuing education amid the public health crisis.
“Maraming nawalan ng trabaho at walang pagkukunan ng pampaaral sa kanilang mga anak. Pwede ba natin luwagan ang payment schemes at bigyan po sila ng palugit sa pagbayad ng tuition?” Go appealed during a hearing of the Senate acting as the Committee of the Whole on Thursday, May 21.
“Baka di kakayanin ng mga magulang ang malaking amount. Importante po hindi sila maantala o mahinto sa kanilang pag-aaral,” he reiterated.
Previously, Go, also sitting as a member of the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the implementation of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, also called on the private and government banking and financial institutions, including the Government Service Insurance System, Social Security System and PAG-IBIG Fund, to provide flexible payment terms for personal and commercial loans as most Filipinos lost their jobs and livelihoods amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the hearing, the Senator also asked regarding the schedule of opening of the next school year and steps to be taken by the government in assisting the students, teachers, and non-teaching personnel in schools and to ensure their health and safety.
In response, Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones said that most teachers, students, school officials and parents still preferred to start the school year in August based on a survey conducted by the department.
“Nagkaroon tayo ng napakalaking survey, more than 700,000 participants—mga teachers, learners, opisyal, parents na sinurvey natin at tinanong natin kung kelan gusto nila magbukas ang eskwelahan, kasi merong ibang private school gusto nila June pa lang magbubukas na sila,” Briones said.
The DepEd Secretary also added that the law specifically provides that school opening may be conducted not later than the last week of August. She also said that they will authorize the use of “blended education” so that teachers can conduct learning remotely to ensure the safety of their students.
“Ino-authorize natin ‘yung tinatawag nating blended education, na halo ang online kasi meron ang iba, gustong magbukas ng June o magbukas kayo pero kailangan, online walang face to face,” Briones also said.
“Pwedeng halo na merong once a week o ano bang arrangement na gagawin, tapos napansin namin, pwede kung online, tiningnan namin ilan ang kayang mag online na mga parents at mga bata,” she further explained, adding that smartphones will also be used to transmit lessons.
As for students who do not have access to smartphones, Briones also said that they will explore the use of the television and radio to ensure the continuing learning of the students amid the quarantine protocols currently in place in many parts of the country.
Next week, Briones will be meeting officials of the Presidential Communications Operations Office to discuss how government-run television and radio stations may be utilized as alternative platforms to deliver lessons. This is in response to Go’s earlier call for DepEd and educational institutions to explore possible online or distance learning programs for students to be able to continue their studies without putting them at harm or adding burden to them and their families as government continues to fight the disease outbreak.
Meanwhile, Go also asked Commission on Higher Education Dr. J. Prospero de Vera III about the measures to be implemented by the government so that alternative modes of learning do not cause unnecessary stress to the families of the students in the tertiary level.
“Hindi naman po pwedeng tumigil ang kanilang pag-aaral,” Go previously said, adding that “schools must also prepare their facilities and lay down protocols in preparation for the possible scenarios that students, teachers and education personnel will face when classes resume.”
De Vera responded, saying that they are also advising the use of flexible learning, which is a system of learning that uses both online and offline modes.
“Ang objective ng flexible learning ay ma-decongest ang klase para hindi lahat ng estudyante papasok. Hindi ibig sabihin nito na wala nang papasok sa school pero babawasan ang kailangang pumasok sa eskwelahan para pwedeng mag-social distancing, babawasan ang large gatherings, et cetera,” he replied.
“So, hindi ito necessarily online lahat. ‘Yung mga eskwelahan na kaya nilang online, tuloy pa rin sila mag-online,” de Vera added.
De Vera also mentioned that the CHEd has an ongoing project with Silliman University, for example, to design a learning management system which does not need internet connection to work. It is a software where teachers, students and schools can conduct learning remotely.
De Vera also clarified that not all learning will happen virtually, since there are students who do not have access to the internet.
“‘Yung mga kaya talagang mag-online, pwede silang mag-online most of the time. ‘Yung talagang walang internet connection, ‘yun ang magre-regular residential class,” de Vera said.
“Ang naging problema kasi nung sinabing flexible, ang intindi ng iba eh online lahat. Hindi ho ‘yun ang itinutulak ng CHEd. Depende po yan sa internet connectivity,” he added.
Noting the fact the some higher educational institutions have been used as quarantine isolation areas, Go also sought the assurance of concerned government agencies to ensure the safety of the students.
“There are fears that students will be dangerously exposed kapag pinapasok na sila habang ginagamit ang kanilang mga eskwelahan as quarantine facility. Kindly check that also,” Go mentioned.
Ending his questioning, Go then thanked the officials of the Executive department for their continuing service to the country in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“Salamat sa lahat po ng nasa Executive. Salamat po sa inyong serbisyo sa bayan. Labanan natin ito para malagpasan natin (bilang isang nagkakaisang bansa),” he ended.