Tablets useless? They will be used to download modules, says DepEd

When the Department of Education (DepEd) announced a shift to distanced learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many local governments raced to provide tablets and laptops to students from low-income families so they could keep up.

But because of poor internet connectivity in many parts of the country, those gadgets will mostly be used only to download learning modules, if at all, because online “Zoom-type” classes remain unfeasible for the public school system.

“Many of the cities that have invested in tablets have still ended up using more of the modular, blended type [of learning] because even in NCR… the connectivity is really an issue,” Senator Pia Cayetano said during a hearing of the Senate committee on basic education on Wednesday, September 16.

Cayetano, whose brother Lino is the mayor of Taguig City, said this was a "common conclusion" among National Capital Region (NCR) mayors.

"I don't know of any other situation.... Outside Metro Manila, it's even choppier," the senator added.

During the hearing, the DepEd presented the status of its preparations for the opening of classes in public schools on October 5. Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan told the panel 98.83% of printed self-learning materials were ready for distribution as of Tuesday, September 15.

The DepEd is ready for classes to begin on October 5, Malaluan added.

These printed materials will be complemented by audio and audiovisual lectures to be aired on TV and radio. However, the bulk of these recorded lectures are still in production, and some 220 of them will be introduced into students’ schedules later in the year.

Online classes 'the gold standard'

Senator Nancy Binay asked the DepEd about plans, if any, to conduct “Zoom-type” online classes, which she said best simulated classroom instruction among the different modes of distanced learning.

Some private schools have already resumed classes, and through web conferences are able to establish and maintain interaction with students attending from home. Students participate in physical education and art classes with their teachers onscreen, Binay said, citing her children’s experience.

“The only thing lacking is the physical presence of their teachers and classmates,” Binay said.

Of course, private schools with students from well-to-do families tend to be at an advantage over public schools, but Binay pointed out that many local governments have already invested in gadgets to bridge that gap.

Malaluan replied that “the use of technology has a mix of capacity issues as well as a preference issue by the households” – that is, a DepEd survey found that many students’ families preferred printed modules as the primary means of distanced learning.

"Sayang naman kung hindi magagamit (It’s a pity if they won’t be used), if the push is for printed modules,” Binay said, referring to the gadgets provided by local governments.

Online classes may be considered the “gold standard” in distanced learning, and the public school system should aim for it, she added.

The gadgets won’t go to waste, Malaluan said, as these will be used to download electronic copies of learning modules and, eventually, interactive versions. The DepEd is working to upload these modules in a “commons” website two weeks in advance so students can download and study them ahead of schedule.

This would minimize dependence on printed copies, which present the risk of transmitting the coronavirus. Besides, children would be delighted with the interface, Malaluan said.

Online classes "should be the end goal," said Cayetano, "but we are really not ready for it right now" because of poor connectivity. She then proposed a meeting with the Department of Information and Communications Technology to discuss the problem.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, head of the Senate panel on basic education, said local governments are producing their own supplementary educational materials that can be streamed on Facebook or YouTube. The DepEd would do well to make their televised lectures available on YouTube, too, for students who have the gadgets to access them, he added.

Private schools: We can help

Private schools can help out in areas where connectivity is a problem, said Joseph Noel Estrada, managing director of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA).

Estrada disputed the DepEd’s claim that most households preferred modules to online classes.

“I would say that was a compelled choice because based on their circumstance – they don’t have the gadgets or the connectivity – they would say they just prefer modular [learning]. I think if given the chance to have a realistic choice to go to a private school using government subsidy for online [learning], I think they would prefer that,” Estrada said.

The government has a subsidy program in place for senior high school students of schools not part of the DepEd’s system. Beneficiaries are given vouchers equivalent to the cost of their tuition, which the government will pay directly to their schools.

Estrada said COCOPEA has been asking the DepEd for information on what distanced learning modes are prevalent and feasible in every area of the country, to see where private schools can step in.

Education Undersecretary Toni Umali said the DepEd would “try to provide” COCOPEA that information. –

JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.