The United Nations Children‘s Fund (UNICEF) came out Wednesday with a report that may have relevance to our educational system in the Philippines.
About 1.3 billion school-age children worldwide whose schools have closed down due to the COVID-19 have no access to Internet at home. They make up about two-thirds of the world’s children aged 3 to 17. “This is more than just a digital gap,” UNICEF Executive Director Henietta Fore said. “It is a digital canyon!”
The UNICEF report should be of particular concern to officials of our Department of Education who decided to open the new school year last August 24 with a blended learning system with Internet-based sessions, television and radio programs, and printed modules which were disributed by teachers to the homes of the children, instead of face-to-face class meetings.
In many parts of the country, however, there is no Internet access, not even television. The country has only about 19,000 cell towers when about 50,000 are needed for widespread Internet service, In contrast, Vietnam has 70,000 cell towers.
Thus through all these weeks and months since August 24, millions of Fililpino school children have not been reached by the Department of Education’s Internet learning sessions. They are part of the huge volume of 1.3 billion school-age children which UNICEF said have been left out of Internet-based school programs and are thus lost in the world’s deep “digital canyon.”
But we can understand the CHED’s stand against face-face classes because of COVID-19. Around the world, the virus continues to take lives, destroy livelihoods, and wreck economies, and children must be protected from the pandemic.
One research fellow at the University of the Philippines OCTA Research says that young children are actually less of a risk for transmission than older students as the latter tend to move around a lot, mixing with other people. He favors resuming face-to face classes for young childen but suggests that classes be held outdoors, rather than in closed poorly ventilated rooms where the risk of virus infection would be greater.
This school year has truly been a problem for our school officials led by Secretary of Education Leonor Briones who, from the beginning, had staunchly opposed proposals to cancel the school year, along with other institutions with a high risk of COVID-19 infection, saying it may affect the children’s interest in learning.
Over three months have passed since the school year began on August 24 and there may be need to review the situation and adopt some changes to improve it. The UN report said 1.3 billion children worldwide are suffering because they have no Internet access. Millions of them may be Filipino school children. For them we need to devise some new learning systems so this school year will not be a total loss.
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