Gatchalian asks Telcos to build cell sites in public schools

Robie de Guzman   •   June 16, 2020   •   385

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian on Tuesday called on telecommunication companies to install cell sites in public schools to provide internet access to all of the country’s 42,000 barangays as demand for various online services increased amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Gatchalian said public schools provide viable spots for cell sites and that this move would help accelerate the installation of free wi-fi hotspots in the country’s public places to boost the capacity of schools to utilize the distance learning in emergencies.

“We hit two birds with one stone. Out of the almost 62,000 schools nationwide, merong 47,000 na public schools. Now, there are about 42 thousand barangays nationwide. So bawat barangay merong public school at kung pwede nating patayuan ng cell site at wifi-based station sa bawat public school, sagip na natin ang buong Pilipinas dahil buong barangay ay makakabitan natin ng cell site,” he said.

“Ang proposal natin sa telecommunication companies ay gamitin ang lupa ng ating mga public school,” he added.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture, stressed that in the long run, these cell sites would save the country’s public schools billions of pesos to pay for internet connection.

He also emphasized that bridging the digital divide will help the country’s education system to innovate and ensure that no learner is left behind.

“Kung meron sana tayong sapat na imprastraktura, meron tayong internet, meron tayong mga gadgets, hindi magiging problema yung pagtuturo sa mga estudyante, lalo na ngayong kailangan nating mag-shift sa distance learning,” Gatchalian said.

Citing records from the Department of Education, the lawmaker said that 58% of elementary schools, 80% of junior high schools, and 72% of senior high schools are connected to the internet.

He also mentioned the mapping of public schools and cell site towers by Project BASS or Bandwidth and Signal Statistics which showed that 44% or 20,398 public schools were found to be located more than six kilometers away from the nearest cell site means they have either very poor or no access to the internet.

The ideal distance for a school to the closest cell site should not be more than three kilometers to get a good internet connection.

“Moving forward, kahit wala nang COVID-19, importante ring pagsikapan nating maabot ang bawat isang kabahayan gamit ang internet, at mabigyan natin ang mga bata ng kagamitan, mga gadgets, para magamit nila sa pag-aaral,” Gatchalian said.

The senator earlier filed Resolution No. 392 which seeks to review the implementation coverage of the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act and its effectivity in elementary and secondary public schools, Alternative Learning System Centers, and other community learning centers in the country.

Gatchalian wants probe on quality of DepEd’s lessons for distance learning

Robie de Guzman   •   August 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing for a Senate inquiry on the content of lessons to be used by the Department of Education (DepEd) for its distance learning program.

Gatchalian issued the statement on Friday after DepEd drew criticisms over some of its episodes containing grammatical and typographical errors.

DepEd started its test broadcast of television episodes on state-run Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC-13) and Solar Learning. However, photos showing a Grade 8 lesson went viral as netizens slammed what some described as “painful” errors in the lesson.

While DepEd already acknowledged the errors and vowed to make improvements on its TV broadcast content, Gatchalian stressed that quality control should not be compromised amid the rush to make learning resources available when classes open.

“We’ll probably have another hearing on the content aspect of distance learning because quality control is very important,” Gatchalian said in a statement.

Gatchalian, who chairs the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture, reiterated that the reach of television makes it a viable tool for distance learning, especially for those who have no available internet connectivity.

Citing information from Dataxis, a global firm specializing in telecom and media business, he said 18.7 million Filipino households have television in 2019, a number that is expected to increase to 20.7 million by 2024.

The lawmaker added that since not all parents can teach their children at home because some of them have not completed schooling, teachers can guide learners through recorded lessons for television. Parents, on the other hand, can ensure that their children are focused on studying.

He noted that some local government units (LGU) have already partnered with local television stations to broadcast recorded lessons.

He cited as an example a local cable service provider in Luna, Isabela which provided two channels for the province’s ‘TV-Eskwela’. One channel will be used for elementary while the other will be for high school learners.

Isabela City in Basilan has also forged a partnership with a local cable service provider to put up ‘TELEdukasyon’.

Under the partnership, the P1,500 cable installation fee is waived and parents will just have to pay for the P350 subscription fee monthly, which gives them access to three channels dedicated to distance learning.

“Sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon ngayong panahon ng krisis, hindi lang ang pag-abot sa ating mga mag-aaral ang dapat nating pinag-uusapan. Mahalagang tutukan natin kung paano masisigurong dekalidad ang edukasyon na natatanggap nila kahit na sila ay nasa mga tahanan nila,” Gatchalian said.

DepEd moves opening of classes to October 5

Robie de Guzman   •   August 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Education (DepEd) on Friday announced that the opening of classes has been moved to October 5 following calls for adjustments as the country’s education system shifts to blended learning amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement posted on its Facebook page, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said President Rodrigo Duterte approved its recommendation to defer the opening of School Year 2020-2021 from August 24 to October 5.

Briones said she submitted the recommendation to the president on August 6 after the latter placed back Metro Manila, Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna and Rizal under modified enhanced community quarantine (MECQ).

“As per the memorandum, the President has given approval to the recommendation of DepEd. Thus, we will implement such a decision to defer school opening to October 5 pursuant to Republic Act No. 11480,” Briones said.

She said the deferment will be used to provide relief to the logistical limitations faced by the areas placed under MECQ and to “fill in the remaining gaps of the school opening that we are currently addressing.”

“Areas outside MECQ are directed to continue their orientations, dry runs, and delivery of learning resources so that we will be ready for the opening of classes on October 5,” Briones added.

Several groups and lawmakers have earlier called on DepEd to postpone the opening of classes this month to give more time for the preparation of the transition to distance learning.

“We trust that this is the final adjustment of the school opening. Even with the implementation of MECQ, we will use this time to make the necessary adjustments and ensure that all preparations have been made for the successful opening of classes for School Year 2020-2021,” Briones said.

Robredo urges DepEd to realign budget to fund blended learning, address health concerns

Robie de Guzman   •   August 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo has urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to realign the items in its budget to finance the distance learning program and respond to the needs of teachers and students as the country shifts to a blending learning system amid the pandemic.

In a letter dated August 10 addressed to DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, Robredo said the department must realign its P29-billion budget for rehabilitation of school buildings to procure gadgets and other equipment for distance learning and hazard pay for teachers.

“Around P29.5 billion was earmarked for the rehabilitation of school buildings for 2020. Given the shift to distance learning, many of these school buildings will be left without children to occupy them, thus deprioritizing the need for the rehabilitation of physical spaces,” she said.

“This amount can be used to procure the needed gadget and equipment for distance learning as well as address the health concerns of educators,” she added.

Robredo also noted that 61% or around 14 million households do not have access to the internet, adding that 74% or some 34,700 schools do not have the infrastructure to engage in online learning.

“While we understand that the department has set up the DepEd Commons learning platform for students to access lessons on their worn, we have received reports that only 7 million students have so far subscribed to this platform,” she said.

“This constitutes only 35% of the estimated 20 million public school students in the country,” she added.

Aside from access to internet connection and self-learning modules, Robredo also called on DepEd to protect the health and safety of educators by conducting mass testing, with testing and distribution of results done before classes start; providing sufficient fund for physical check-up and medicine; providing supplies such as personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers, among others; distributing hazard pay on time, and; establishing a system for the health and wellness needs of the teachers.

She said such initiatives can be funded by realigning DepEd’s P700 million budget allotted for teachers’ trainings.

“Many of these trainings have already, or will be, shifted to online modalities, thus freeing up resources that would otherwise have been used for travel and accommodations,” Robredo said.

“Rest assured that we understand the complexity of the challenges before us. We submit these insights and recommendations in the spirit of solidarity so that we may all, as one nation, build the better normal that our people deserve,” she added.

In response to the vice president’s recommendations, Briones said they cannot just make any significant realignment in their budget without consulting the Department of Budget and Management.

She also said they have allotted P9 billion fund for the reproduction of modules and that these have been forwarded to DepEd regional and division offices.

Briones likewise assured they have laid out programs to ensure the safety and health of educators as she reiterated that no face-to-face classes will be implemented amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have been paying hazard pay before COVID-19 for teachers who are in places na malayo ang sasakyan, malayo sa urban area. May standard kasi yan,” she said.

“Ulitin ko walang face-to-face until hangga’t walang vaccine yun ang sinasabi ni president; therefore, the teachers will not be exposed as a result of teaching. If they will be exposed, there might be other causes,” she added. – RRD (with details from Correspondent Dante Amento)

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