As a reminder of the dire education situation in the country today, Back-to-School (BTS) network launched simultaneous protests at the University of the Philippines Manila, Eusebio High School in Pasig City, and at Poblacion in Muntinlupa City on the September 13 general opening of classes.

The group panned Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones’ two-years-in-a-row celebratory remarks on the day of opening of classes, despite millions of unenrolled and two years of the problematic distance learning program and decrease in enrollment.

Briones called the opening of classes this year a “success” and last year a “victory.”

Over 2.2 million from last school year’s enrollment figures remain unregistered as classes opened. Last year’s opening of classes saw 1.3 million unable to enroll. Those who dropped out were said to be due their inability to shift to online learning and/or economic difficulties of the family as a result of the pandemic and lockdown.

Aside from those who dropped out, annual enrollment was seen to increase by almost a million students before 2020, which could mean a million more were discouraged from continuing their education, stressed the network.

Student protests on the opening of classes, usually dubbed “First Day Rage,” have been held annually to call out pervading education system woes, such as the small budget that leads to the lack of classrooms and facilities, teachers, books, and admission slots among others. The protest is like a baptism of fire to new students being inducted to education woes, despite what could have been an exciting first day of classes.

First day rage

Garbed in school uniforms, youth groups along with students and parents pushed the DepEd for the gradual reopening of schools with observance of health protocols as “education in the new normal,” as the Philippines remain only one in two countries in the world whose schools remain shut for more than a year.

At University of the Philippines – Manila
At Eusebio High School in Pasig City
At Poblacion in Muntinlupa City

“Isang taon na ang nakalipas simula nang ipasara ang mga paaralan at ipinalit ang online class na pinalala lang ang krisis sa edukasyon. Alam naman natin na bago pa ang pandemya ay marami na ang bilang ng out-of-school-youth. Ngunit lalo itong lumobo dahil sa marami ang hindi makasabay sa online class,” said Mark Joel Solde of League of Filipino Students (LFS) Metro Manila.

[It has been a year since schools were closed and was replaced with online classes, and that only worsened the education crisis. We know that even before the pandemic, there were many out-of-school youth. But the number ballooned because many cannot keep up with the online class.]

Solde reiterated the students’ concerns with regard to module, gadgets, internet support, excessive workload and study load, and wanting school safety measures, as observed in the last school year.

“Bukod sa kaliwa’t kanang krisis sa pandemya, dumagdag pa sa ating gastusin ang pambili sa gadget at internet connection na napakamahal at napakabagal. Napakalaking badyet ang inilabas ng gobyerno ngunit hindi naman ramdam ng mga estudyante, guro, magulang, maging ng mga manggagawang pangkalusugan,” Solde stressed.

[Aside from crises brought by the pandemic, added to our expenses were gadgets and internet connection, which is very expensive yet very slow. The government has released a huge budget but the students, teachers, parents, even the health workers did not feel it.]

“Marami ring kabataang estudyante ang napipilitan tumigil at magtrabaho nalang para makatulong sa pamilya,” he added.

[Many young students are also forced to quit schooling and find work just to help their families.]

Forced to stop schooling, now working

Marijan Joy Pering Blas, 18 is supposed to be a Grade 7 student in Nagpayong High School but chose to not enroll for this school year given the difficulties brought by the blended learning scheme.

“Nagtrabaho nalang po ako ngayon sa pag-aalaga ng bata sa Cainta,” Blas shared.

[I chose to work instead by taking care of a child in Cainta.]

She lamented how poor the internet connection was in their area especially during inclement weather.

“Hindi po ako masyado makasunod sa online class, nawawala ‘yong signal. Hindi ko rin kasi maintindihan ang mga turo. Icha-chat nga lang ng mga teacher ang lesson at ikaw ‘yong magsasagot na sa module, nandoon din kasi ang mga itinuturo nila tapos ipapasa na,” she added.

[I can’t follow the online class very well given the poor signal. I also couldn’t understand the lessons. At times, the teachers will just send the lessons via chat about and you will answer the module on your own. And what they actually teach is in the module and then the modules will be submitted to them.]

She has three other siblings, but only one of them enrolled for this school year.

Their mother, Maricel Pering Blas, stressed that not only her kids felt the burden of distance learning but also the parents who are compelled to study or even answer the modules whenever children could not understand the lessons just so the school requirements are complied with.

“May mga tanong sila na hindi rin naman naming nasasagot. Di tulad ng face-to-face na nandoon ang teacher at naipapaliwanag ang mga lessons para maintindihan talaga nila,” Maricel noted.

[They have questions that we can’t answer. Unlike in face-to-face classes where the teacher is there and explains the lessons so that they can really understand.]

She said that the last school year had only been a waste of time for her children.

“Kung sila nag-aral ng online, kapag nabagot eh aalis na lang eh. Kung may quiz, nasa module din naman na ang sagot eh ‘di doon nalang nila kokopyahin. Iba pa rin ang pakikihalubilo nila sa klase nila, makakasalamuha nila ang teachers nila. Isang taon na ang nasayang sa ganitong itsura,” she lamented.

[If they study online, when they get bored, they would just leave. If there is a quiz, the answer is also in the module and they will just copy it there. It really is different when they can interact in class, they can interact with their teachers. A year has been wasted like this.]

Pains among medical students

Students taking up dentistry and nursing in UP Manila slated the ‘ineffective, inept, and inaccessible’ blended learning arrangement in the tertiary level.

UP Manila is one of the 10 schools approved to hold limited face-to face classes last June 1.

“Sa UP Manila, nagsagawa ng limitadong face-to-face nitong July, mariing sinikap ito ng faculty, staff, admin at mga estudyante. Higit na kinakailangan na ito ng mga estudyante upang masigurong buo ang kanilang talino at pagsasanay sa mga kurso,” Gianne Romero of LFS UP Manila emphasized.

[At UP Manila, limited face-to-face meetings were held this July, the faculty, staff, admin and students worked hard for this. Students need this more to ensure complete skills and training in their courses.]

On the other hand, Gail Macasu, a nursing student, shared her experiences last year when she used several materials in their household as her patient in order to perform activities needed for her class.

“Iba’t ibang kagamitan sa aming tahanan ang ginawa kong pasyente, gumamit ako ng prutas, tshirt. Natatakot ako sa mga magiging pasyente ko na kapag grunmadweyt ako ay walang sapat na kaalaman at karanasan para magsilbi sa aking magiging pasyente,” Macasu decried.

[I turned various tools and equipment at home as patients. I used fruit, t-shirt. I am afraid with how I will deal with my future patients if I would not have enough knowledge and experience to serve my patients.]

The health sciences students were also distressed with the need for ‘second gadgets’ so they can be monitored as they conduct their exams via Zoom.

“Kung walang gadget ang mga estudyante, paano siya makakasabay sa pagkatuto?” Romero lamented.

[If students don’t have gadgets, how can they keep up with the learning?]

Beatriz Frondoso, who is a dentistry student, shared that dentistry students have to shoulder almost P80,000 for lab equipment for their online laboratory classes last academic year. She argued that these should have been shouldered by the college.

Also, they need not have the burden of these additional costs if there were face-to-face classes as the school already has the dental equipment they need for their classes.

Call for action

BTS Network said the closure of schools is due to the government’s poor pandemic response and not the government merely playing safe or wanting kids to be safe. Such bad pandemic record, like the longest lockdown in the world while cases are still surging up to now, cannot be undone and will now be part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s legacy, said the group.

Duterte said there will be no face-to-face classes until the COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the country. Inoculation started on March 1, but remains slow as only up to essential workers in essential industries have been vaccinated and not more than 15% of the population, and 23% of the target for herd immunity (70% of the population).

Meanwhile, apart from again announcing a pilot test for face-to-face classes, the DepEd has yet to provide a clear roadmap for reopening of schools, that the students see as the only solution to distance learning problems.

“Ang pagpataw ng academic break at academic ease ay mga band aid solution lamang at hindi kailanman magiging episyenteng solusyon sa pagtataguyod ng de-kalidad, makamasa, at siyentipikong edukasyon,” Romero stressed.

[The imposition of academic breaks and academic ease are only band aid solutions and will never be effective solutions to uphold quality, mass-oriented, and scientific education.]

“Niyuyurakan ni Duterte ang oportunidad na matuto nang tama tayong magiging doctor, dentista, therapist, nurse, at researchers ng bayan lalo sa panahon ng krisis kung kalian sila pinakakailangan,” Romero seconded.

[Duterte is trampling on the opportunity for the students to learn the right way to become the doctors, dentists, therapists, nurses, and researchers for the people, especially amid this health crisis when they are most needed.]

Solde questioned the DepEd and Duterte administration, “Akala ko ba kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan? Bakit marami sa kanila ang wala ngayon sa paaralan?”

[I thought the nation’s hope is the youth. Then why are so many of them out of school now?]

With Briones’ another claim of triumph, the students said the real victory is when the ‘corrupt and inutile’ government officials were held accountable and removed from office, including the education department secretary herself.

“Sa pagpasok ng bagong akademikong taon ay maging hudyat ito ng ating nagkakaisnag pagtindig. Kumilos tayo at bawiin natin ang ninakaw na bukas at pagkakataon ng inutil na pamahalaang Duterte,” Macasu declared.

[With the coming of new academic year, let it be a signal of our united stand. Let us act and take back the future and the opportunities being stolen from by the inutile Duterte administration.]


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