DepEd’s Distance Learning—Discriminatory, Inaccessible, and Anti-Poor

Access to education, one of the tenets of our basic human rights, must be given to every Filipino by our government. That also comes with the materials and the opportunities that will be possible for everyone, regardless of background. However, continued neglect in providing opportunities for the marginalized sector made acquisition of education a privilege for a few than an essential right for all.

With the advent of covid-19, the disproportion of access to education only exacerbated. Decades of neglect and oppressive policies have heightened the predicament of creating an accessible learning environment, especially in this pandemic. DepEd’s solution to bringing learning to Filipino children is the “distance learning” approach. DepEd proposes to utilize gadgets such as computers, laptops, and smartphones as well as a traditional medium, such as radio and television. It goes without saying that in order to access learning modules, students must also have internet connection and electricity. 

Such recommendations are well and good for a select few, but not for everyone. In a country where education is viewed more as a privilege and not as a right, these proposals are devoid of understanding of what is actually happening at the ground level.

In the rural areas of the Philippines, farmers and fisherfolks struggle to make ends meet, more so in the time of Covid-19. Most peasant families’ monthly cost of living reaches around P15 to P21,000. It is absurd and outrightly unreasonable for Filipino peasants and other marginalized sectors to be burdened with procuring these gadgets and the costs attached to it over their basic needs like food and medicine.

This outrageous proposal reflects once again how out of touch our government officials are to the plights of the poor in our country. This is not at all surprising, but still appalling and unacceptable nonetheless.

Reports of challenges to DepEd’s proposal are coming from all over prior to its full implementation. Teachers from the rural parts of the country, who are already handicapped with the lack of educational materials and access to technology as well as support from the government, struggle to attend web seminars from DepEd. Various reports have shown teachers camping on mountains just to access ISP’s signals and attend those webinars.

Furthermore, on June 17, a 19-year-old boy from Albay committed suicide due to the impending costs of online enrollment and other charges in order to participate in “distance learning.” Policies that benefit only a select few have cost us the life of a young boy. DepEd must take responsibility for this loss of life and the burden that it has induced in the lives of Filipino peasants and other marginalized groups. 

Without going down to the lived experiences of every peasant Filipino in the country to guide its decisions, the educational system under DepEd will only continue to benefit a select few. We cannot push through with this unreasonable and anti-poor plan. We, Rural Women Advocates (RUWA), call on the Department of Education to rethink their alternative plans for learning. In this time, it is imperative that focus should be on the lowering of the cases and casualties from Covid-19. Free mass testing must be prioritized by the government and recommended by DepEd instead of burdening the poor and the marginalized. Finally, we demand educational reforms that would make obtaining education democratic and that would benefit all Filipinos, not just a few.

Vitto Lardizabal

Rural Women Advocates (RUWA)