Leave no learner behind. This is Senator Win Gatchalian’s call to the Department of Education (DepEd) as it mulls online-based education for the next school year in the event of a prolonged crisis due to COVID-19.
DepEd has recently launched the online platform “DepEd Commons,” which allows public school teachers to support distance learning, give access to online review materials, and use Open Educational Resources (OERs). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) defines OERs as digital and non-digital teaching, learning and research materials in the public domain, which have been released under an open license. This allows no-cost access, use, adaptation, and non-restricted redistribution.
Since the DepEd Commons was launched in March 17, it now has more than 3.1 million users. There are 27.2 million learners and 840,000 public school teachers nationwide.
DepEd, however, acknowledged that not all learners can access these platforms and materials.
Gatchalian said that DepEd should ensure the continued education of learners without internet access and learning tablets, especially those in more than 7,000 ‘Last Mile Schools’ in geographically isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-affected areas. These schools tend to have less than five teachers and 100 learners, 75 percent of whom are indigenous peoples.
The lawmaker also emphasized the need to cover more than 600,000 learners enrolled in the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a parallel learning system for those who do not have access to formal education. This is an area which the DepEd must not neglect especially that the most vulnerable to this pandemic belong to the same socioeconomic group as our ALS learners.
“Bagama’t mahalaga ang papel ng online o distance learning sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon, kailangan nating siguruhin na patuloy din ang pag-aaral para sa mga hindi nakakagamit ng internet. Walang mag-aaral ang dapat maiwan,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
Gatchalian then urged DepEd to increase and maximize the use and distribution of non-digital OERs. He cited the practice of some schools in the United States, where learning materials are printed in packets and distributed for home use. For learners with available devices but limited internet connection, UNESCO also identified learning platforms that can work offline.
The lawmaker added that in the months leading to the opening of classes, DepEd should ensure the preparedness of students, teachers, and parents in using their distant learning materials.
He concluded that once the enhanced community quarantine is lifted in Luzon, the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) should accelerate the provision of internet in more public spaces under Republic Act 10929 or the Free Internet Access in Public Spaces Act. The law calls for the provision of free internet in public spaces such as basic education institutions, state universities and colleges, technical and vocational institutions, and public health facilities, among others.