Has Covid Made Education More Accessible?

On my cellphone I get some surprising messages: “Lolo, pahinging tulong, magbabayad sana ako sa online class.” This is from an 11-year-old girl, abandoned by both parents and left alone to care for two brothers, as her ate got pregnant, had a baby and moved in with her partner.

“Sana magkaroon ako ng kahit lumang cp, aayusin ko yan at mag-online class ako.” This is a teenage boy who is very ‘techie.’

“May modules ba sa mga estudyante ng 3rd year high school?” From an older student hoping to graduate from high school.

“Patubusin na po ang tablet ko, at maka-online class ako!”

The spread of Covid-19 has caused the closure of most of our elementary and high school classrooms. And while some teachers and many students are doubtful or fearful of online classes, several other poor children, see their worn cellphones as their key to open up education for themselves.

BUT so far, the Department of Education has focused most of their attention on preparing the modules for teachers to provide the new learning on line. They have also endeavored to provide training for these teachers, to learn how to encourage learning in a class whose faces are but miniatures on their computer screen or replaced by an unmoving photo (camera off!) Or just by their initials.

This is so different from seeing them nodding to your teaching, or grimacing at what they don’t understand or just squirming in their seats.

The ordinary face-to-face classes were already difficult for poor families to gain access to. One had to pay for uniforms, buy slippers or school shoes, pay fees for books and events and be part of a school nearby. Online classes, however, seem to have opened a new opportunity for the very poorest of our country.

I get the impression that some of these kids might even try to access these online classes in a colorum way! They would learn as a quiet listener (mic and camera off!) even though they are not an official member of the class!

Online classes may be the perfect way for DepEd to provide universal elementary and high school education, as promised in our Constitution.

But I think DepEd should go further and not just organize online classes as an alternative to face to face classes. It should organize online classes as ‘Open School Online”—that is, with no tuition, no uniforms and no charges for books.

All module materials should be distributed free through their already established module system, adapted to student learning. Organization of Open Education Online can still be done through the existing schools, but now these become learning centres for training teachers for online education and for creating the learning modules for the students.

Students could then register from anywhere in the country, remote and isolated farms in the Visayas, mountainous areas of Mindanao, and even from squatter areas, like Baseco in Tondo or the cardboard huts along Calle de la Sagrada Familia in old San Andres.

I think this would be the department’s best offer of free elementary and high school education as promised in our constitution! In this way, our school children would have access to free online classes in Pilipino, English, Mathematics, Geography, Social Studies and History! We could add Music and Art as well.

DepEd could change history this way—thanks to COVID! Big savings in school room maintenance and increased opportunities for online teachers!

Can you imagine a poor kid in crowded eskinita in Baseco huddling over a broken down cellphone and scooping up learning in Pilipino and History on a cellphone! Or farmer’s kids sharing their cellphone while sitting on the side of the palayan to learn Social Studies?

This idea could be implemented if DepEd ties in with entrepreneurial partners and municipal mayors to sponsor some of the costs to buy cellphones, tablets and internet access.

Online classes could revolutionize our national culture!