As teachers in the Philippines commemorate the National Teachers’ Day last October 5, the academic year 2020-2021 officially kicked off amid calls for an academic freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid uncertainties on the part of students, parents, and teachers, cross-questioning whether the Department of Education (DepEd) is prepared enough to push through with its “blended learning” program, Secretary Leonor Briones said: “As to the question if DepEd is ready, I can say that we are – we’ve seen it in our simulation – it will work. We can use gadgets, we can use modules, we can also use TV and radio.”

Briones’ assurance, however, did not come about on the first day of classes almost everyone struggled to cope with the new mode of learning.

Bugged by poor internet connectivity in the country and the impracticality of “remote learning” as they must allot money for their children’s internet data on a day-to-day basis, many parents decided not to enroll their children anymore.

Teachers, on the other hand, with little to no resources left, continue to struggle in providing themselves needed materials like copies of learning modules.

With these and more, concerned groups, students, teachers, and parents continue to voice out their sentiments until today.

Printing Of Self-Learning Modules (SLMs)

In September, DepEd Usec. Diosdado San Antonio discouraged students with gadgets from getting learning modules from their teachers to save costs on printing the self-learning modules (SLMs).

“What we’re pushing is for the succeeding grading quarters, we will discourage families who have gadgets to get printed self-learning modules. And this would mean a significant reduction in our requirements,” said San Antonio.

Usec. Anne Sevilla added that students might have to share modules by next year because there aren’t enough funds to reproduce learning materials.

Then with two weeks left before the new school year begins, DepEd officials said printing and distributing modules have yet to be completed.

Errors Found On DepEd TV’s Episodes

From August 11 to August 18, DepEd started a test run of television episodes for distance learning. The first day of the test broadcast, however, did not go smoothly.

In one of the episodes aired, netizens pointed out “painful” grammatical errors found in the sample questionnaires for an English course.

With this, Usec. Alain Pascua vowed to improve DepEd TV’s episodes, saying: “Expect the agency to continue fixing issues to make sure everything is ready for the school opening, whether it’s online, on radio or TV, or through modular learning.”

A day after schools opened, netizens, however, spotted yet another error on one of DepEd TV’s episode: a mathematical equation with an incorrect solution.

Again, Pascua apologized for the mistake, saying: “Humihingi po kami ng paumanhin sa ating mga mag-aaral, sa mga magulang, at teachers sa pagkakamaling ito. Hihigpitan po natin ang pag-QA para maging perpekto ang ating mga episodes sa DepEd TV.”

Safety of Teachers

As reports that several teachers have contracted the virus while being asked to report physically in schools amid the rising cases of COVID-19, Sevilla, on August 10, bared that DepEd has no budget allotted for the treatment of teachers who contracted COVID-19.

“COVID medication and treatment funding budgets are not present or appropriated in the existing budget of DepEd. And I think it is true for all national government agencies,” said Sevilla.

Days after Sevilla said this, a total of 823 students and DepEd personnel contracted the disease. This added to teachers’ and parents’ concerns about the setup as it could transfer the virus during the distribution and retrieval of learning materials.

Insufficient Budget

Amid funding issues for remote learning, Sevilla explained that the approved budget for 2020 does not include the cost of the revamped education system.

The official said that DepEd had requested an additional P65 billion budget for distance learning. She, however, affirmed that the agency failed to secure this from Congress.

DepEd eventually failed to provide complete sets of modules for the first quarter of the school year.

With this, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) stressed that teachers are forced to improvise and shell out money from their own pockets to ensure the continued education of their students.

Pricey Strada Vehicles

Last month, ACT slammed DepEd over its “injudicious” use of funds to purchase 256 Mitsubishi Strada units and 183 Hi-Ace vans, saying this is “DepEd’s own kind of dolomite scam.”

“We were anguished with this insensible use of education money, especially when our teachers shoulder the costs for bond paper, ink, devices, and internet connectivity needed just to make modular and online learning happen amid the pandemic,” the group said.

The retail price of each Strada unit is pegged at P1.465 million.

In separate documents posted on the DepEd website, the procurement of the service vehicles was allotted with a total of P526.8 million.

Briones’ “Insensitive” Comment to Typhoon Rolly-hit schools

As she gave assurances that the production of modules will not be affected by the typhoon, Briones advised schools to solve on their own the problem of damaged learning modules caused by Super Typhoon Rolly.

“Halimbawa, nabasa ang module, siguro hindi naman susulat ang [schools] superintendent na, ‘basa ang module namin.’ Maghanap sila ng paraan. Siguro ibibilad nila, ‘yung iba pinaplantsa. Hindi na sila uutusan ng circular galing sa central office para sabihin kung ano ang gagawin,” said Briones.

With this, the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) blasted the DepEd secretary, saying: “The department further proved that, even without a storm or any other calamity, it’s not sufficiently prepared to implement distance learning and respond to the challenges that go along with it.”

DepEd Module “Discouraging Protests”

In October, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) called out DepEd for module discouraging students from joining protests.

The Grade 12 module on Media and Information Literacy, which had the logo of DepEd on its cover, was distributed to senior high students of Amulung town in Cagayan.

The controversial portion of the module showed a photo of Filipinos participating in a protest. It asked students to explain why or why not they should join rallies. Screenshots of this activity made rounds on social media, which also gained traction from the netizens.

Another page showed the answer key to the question in the module explaining not to join these protests because “the government has really (been) doing their best for all Filipino people and their constituents.”

DepEd Module “Body-Shamed” Angel Locsin

Around the second week of November, photos of a music, arts, physical education, and health (MAPEH) module from DepEd-Occidental Mindoro made rounds on social media. It prompted students with the following situation: “Angel Locsin is an obese person. She, together with Coco Martin, eats fatty and sweet food in Mang Inasal fast food restaurant most of the time. In her house, she always watching television and does not have any physical activities.”

The incident involving the actress is the latest in a string of mishaps in educational modules from the DepEd. In other instances, citizens have spotted grammar mistakes in English questions and wrong solutions in math problems. There were also modules that reinforced gender stereotypes.

P4.2 Million Worth Of Ham And Cheese

DepEd had opened bids on its website for “Supply and Delivery of Ham and Cheese for DepEd Central Office Christmas Celebration” with a funding of P4.278 million.

This, later on, drew online backlash from netizens who questioned the agency’s priorities, given that the country is still reeling from the aftermath of two typhoons, with at least 226 schools destroyed by Rolly, the strongest typhoon this year.

With this, DepEd canceled its supposed purchase of multimillion worth of ham and cheese meant for the central office’s Christmas celebration.

No country in the world was prepared for this unprecedented pandemic. But education – a constitutional right of every Filipino – should be made accessible to all under any circumstance.

No student should be left behind. The state’s education department must provide accessible quality education to millions of students. DepEd must be committed in providing the needs of remote learning.

The question is, with the blunders that were cited, is the DepEd committed enough to ensure the welfare of Filipino learners?

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