Activists, parents, and students held a demonstration outside a public school in Quezon City on Monday to highlight the challenges they face as the new school year opens this week.
The protesters decried the government’s “bungled pandemic response” and the “incompetence” of the education department in implementing a safe and effective education program.
“Most students and their parents don’t know where to get the money to buy the gadgets or the daily internet load we need for our online classes,” said David Austria, secretary of the group Salinlahi Youth.
Salinlahi called on the government to roll out a clear plan for the “immediate safe conduct of limited and voluntary in-classroom learning in zero-case and low-risk areas.”
“We also want face-to-face classes because we don’t learn from the current online set-up,” said Austria, adding that the government should “provide a roadmap for the eventual safe reopening of schools across the country.”
Eule Rico Bonganay, Salinlahi secretary general, said called for a higher government budget for education “to ensure the provision of teaching and learning resources for distance learning” and “health protection and benefits for education workers.”
“The education department should not be contended with its distance learning program without a clear plan for the reopening of schools,” said Bonganay.
Meanwhile, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the start of classes this year, the second time during the pandemic, was a “celebration of victories and successes.”
“We opened classes last year. We successfully ended them. Now we are opening another school year. Isn’t that success worthy of celebration?” she said.
“We are opening the School Year 2021-2022 as we celebrate last year’s victory. The challenges we are facing now are even tougher than those we battled last year,” Briones said.
In a statement, the ecumenical youth group Student Christian Movement of the Philippines noted that days before the start of classes, almost five million Filipino students have not yet enrolled.
The group also expressed sympathy with teachers for the “added efforts in making and delivering modules” without a corresponding increase in salaries.
The group described the government’s distance learning program as “an utter failure and brings unprecedented hardships toward the youth and teachers.”
The education department announced that it is extending the enrollment for students this year until Sept. 30.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers, however, said in a statement that students and teachers are forced into another school year of the “underfunded and ill-equipped distance learning, with still no plans from the government on how it can safely re-open our school.”
The Philippines is one of only four countries that have not yet resumed face-to-face classes since the onset of the pandemic.