Postponement of classes until January 2021 sought

Postponement of classes until January 2021 sought

A group of teachers called concerned government agencies to guarantee the welfare of public school teachers to ensure a successful resumption of classes on October 5 or consider another postponement.

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) has sent a formal letter to legislators and several offices including Malacañang, Office of the Vice President, Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF), Department of Health (DOH), Department of Budget and management (DBM) and Department of Interior and Local government (DILG).

The 5-page document of TDC entitled “Notes and Recommendations from Teachers on the Resumption of Classes for School Year 2020-2021” contained nine issues and concerns as well as recommendations ranging from health benefits to provision of gadgets and internet connectivity as well as assistance to private schools, reduction of workloads up to the possible adjustment of school calendar.

According to the group, they have gathered the information from a series of consultations, online meetings and informal surveys from their leaders and members in the field.

“Represented here are classroom teachers, principals, and supervisors from all the regions. We therefore assure your office that claims made here reflect the general sentiments of our teachers,” Benjo Basas, the group’s national chairperson said in the letter.

“While we have, from day 1, advocated for a January 2021 class opening vs. August 24, we make clear nonetheless that we do not necessarily oppose the adjusted October 5 plan by the Department of Education (DepEd). We do appreciate this slight adjustment, but security and safety of teachers and learners are serious issues yet to be properly addressed by the DepEd, especially that the state of health emergency has been extended by the President for another year,” said Basas.

The TDC said that almost a million teachers who are in-charge of serving 24 million learners will be forced to physically interact with parents and other stakeholders at some levels, which according to them is “a health and safety nightmare that brings chills to the spines of the sane” because people would take public transportation vehicles, move thousands of modules back and forth and at some point will have to do face to face meetings as online infrastructures prove frighteningly inadequate. As of yesterday, the DOH has recorded more than 299, 000 cases of COVID-19 in the country.

“The TDC continues to seek dialogues and forge partnerships. We are very much eager to collaborate with the DepEd as expressed in our many letters to the Central Office. We fervently hope that the DepEd leadership would see the wisdom of considering the opinions and sentiments, even outcry of teachers in crafting policies and in planning for programs,” Basas added.

Teachers challenged the DepEd top managers to visit the schools in the country and never depend on the online reports submitted to them by some field officials who are likely to hide the awful realities.

“Should the DepEd yet again fail to address these concerns, while dark clouds remain above us and our children, immediate consideration for postponement of class opening to January 2021 will inevitably be sought," Basas ended


“Lahat ng kakulangan sa mga plano, sa badyet, sa komunikasyon, sa mga kagamitan, pati na ang kahandaan ng mga bata at kanilang magulang, at lahat ng maaaring mga pagkukulang pa sa parating na pasukan ay ang mga guro pa rin ang inaasahang magpupuno.”

This thought from our National Chairperson, Benjo Basas has always been true and has characterized our education system for more years than anyone cares to count. We therefore, present these notes from the field with the corresponding recommendations for immediate appropriate actions of the government agencies concerned. These notes were consolidated from a series of consultations with our members. Represented here are classroom teachers, principals, and supervisors from all the regions across country, and to the best of our knowledge, reflect the general sentiments of our teachers.

Teachers are not mere implementers of the DepEd’s plans and programs, but should be consulted on their opinions, ideas and sentiments. Education reform initiatives that do not make teachers' welfare paramount would be in vain if not harmful to education.

1. On health benefits and hazard pay for teachers and personnel

The Department of Education (DepEd) as the primary agency tasked to implement the welfare provisions of the 54-year old, 1966 vintage Magna Carta for Teachers (RA 4670) must ensure that the benefits enumerated by the law will be provided. However, crucial at this time of pandemic are the provisions for free and compulsory medical examination, treatment and hospitalization, and compensation for injuries are not implemented until this very day when the teachers need it most. The assurance of a P500 medical check-up allowance that will be given for the first time since 1966 cannot absolve the agency of its disregard for this particular provision for the longest time. Nevertheless, the response, though belated is still appreciated.

We appeal to government to provide both financial and comprehensive medical assistance to DepEd employees who report physically, on top and outside of Philhealth or GSIS benefits. Health protocol measures that include provision of protective equipment, disinfection materials and sanitation facilities should be provided to our public schools. If in case, like we have seen, teachers will be hit by COVID-19, the need for fellow teachers and employees to draw from their own pockets in order to help their colleagues should be eradicated. It is incumbent upon the national government to provide comprehensive support to DepEd employees struck by COVID-19, from initial swab test, to the full course of treatment and to final verificatory swab test.

Concomitant to this is the holding responsible of violators of DepEd’s own rules- school and division officials who compel their subordinates to report despite the work from home (WFH) policy issued by the Central Office. The job of teachers is to teach. Why, therefore, must they be compelled to report to school where there are no students to teach in the first place? After all, all the teaching modalities introduced by the DepEd for this school year can be done remotely.

Further, a paid sick leave or quarantine leave mechanism must be created to respond to the needs of employees who would need to file a leave of absence resultant to being put in isolation for COVID-19. Requisite to this, the DOH must first declare employees who are officially required to physically report to their workplace as “Frontliners” with the corresponding rights and privileges afforded the said function.

2. Mental health program, creation of more teaching items and strengthening of guidance and counseling program

As part of health management for employees, psychological debriefing may be considered. Teachers are eager to go back to teaching but it must be ascertained that they could function well after this pandemic. Indeed, we have teachers already contemplating on taking leave of absence preceding retirement.

One good idea for teachers who may not be able to adjust immediately to the new normal would be to assign them responsibilities that would not require such huge adjustments and steep learning curve. Hiring more teachers at this time is another excellent idea as not only do we really need more teachers, but we also need to absorb the displaced teachers from the private schools and part-time instructors from state universities and colleges (SUCs) that did not make it through the pandemic. Two birds in one stone.

We might want to include hiring more guidance counselors while at it. Registered Guidance Counselors, even before this pandemic are necessities in our schools, to help both students and teachers. But we further appeal to the DepEd to consider a comprehensive reform on hiring qualified GCs and proper compensation grade is just one of them.

4. Service laptops and internet/communication or distance teaching allowance

Teachers today have absolutely no choice but to spend at least ₱1,500 monthly on internet connection alone to be able to fulfill their duties to their learners numbering in several hundreds. Video conferences, text messages, calls, surfing, downloading and uploading materials, all of these now define this era, and COVID-19 made this digital learning tenfold a necessity. But teachers are supplied neither service laptops nor internet allowances. They are forced, from their own sorry pockets, to buy not only laptops, but android phones, external drives, USB drives, printers, ink and reams of bond paper. And it does not end at buying these equipment, laptops, especially, would need to be repaired sooner or later for burned motherboards, broken keyboards, damaged screens, dead batteries, etc. Printers have a thousand things that could go wrong so soon after purchase. And being “personal” equipment, repairs and parts replacements will have to be shouldered—yet once again—by teachers.

While some LGUs are able to pitch-in on equipment like laptops once in a while, the DepEd must fulfill its mandate, take charge, and end all this injustice of the majority of teachers having to steal from their own families just to provide good education to other people’s children. The DepEd needs to clarify as well its claims on the 93% supplied with gadgets. How many “gadgets” per school, what sort of gadgets, and which schools? This claim got many thinking what the claim was all about, given that most of our teachers has ever heard of any one receiving one of these gadgets.

Last September 15, the DepEd released a memorandum stating that the agency is preparing for the provision of connectivity and communications expense for its employees. However, the same memorandum sets conditions for those who could be able to avail the incentive. Worse, the deadline for the activation of DepEd Commons account, the sole requirement to qualify is scheduled last September 21. While the TDC appreciates this effort of providing internet connection for our teachers, we would like to suggest that the internet data allowance be given to all our teachers and employees without conditions or deadlines. Obviously, everybody in the DepEd is badly in need of internet data- in whatever form- in bytes or in cash.

A standardized monthly internet or distance teaching allowance of at least P1,500.00 could help our teachers perform better.

5. On the use of available books rather than expensive modules

If it has been determined that modules should be the main delivery system replacing text books, there needs to be one standard method for creating them. We are supposed to have specialists and experts in the Central and Regional offices who should design them. But what is happening is that divisions are being compelled to draw Plan Bs as it becomes more and more visible that Central Office will not be able to deliver on time. Now we have modules from the Central Office and modules from divisions or even schools. Which one takes precedence then? This is not a simple “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing”, the left hand doesn’t know what it’s doing itself either! But the right hand isn’t doing so well itself, leaving the burden now on- who else- teachers!

Realities on the ground are awful. Schools produced their own modules and actually raised funds to be able to meet the requirements of DepEd. Some of our teachers resorted to online solicitations and even barter, some of them would describe this as begging. Still, many were forced to personally finance these modules- materials which are supposedly state-funded. Yet, in the end and after the government has allotted 9 billion pesos for these modules, the readiness of the system, even for the first quarter proved to be inadequate. There are reported cases that schools have resorted to a scheme where modules will be shared by two groups of learners due to failure to provide learning packets individually. Based on our informal survey made thru social media, most of the schools have only readied these materials only for the first two weeks up to the first month of the coming school year.

Recently, Secretary Leonor Briones herself stated in a news conference that the use of modules has an implication to environment and will put our trees in danger aside from being very expensive. We want to see this pronouncement in terms of policies. We challenge the DepEd to use the printed books and instead supply the necessary activity sheets or lesson guides. Thus, may we propose to halt the further production of modules to be used for the second quarter up to the rest of the school year.

6. Assistance to private schools, hiring of displaced private school teachers and reduction of workloads of teachers

Recently, the DepEd said that there were around 748 private schools nationwide that have decided not to operate for school year 2020-2021 due to very low enrolment turn-out. This involves some 3, 233 teachers that will lose their jobs. Further, DepEd data show that less than 50% of those expected to enroll in private schools have enlisted for this year or a little more than two million students. The data could be translated to migration, many of private school clients have decided to transfer to their public counterpart following the crisis.

Because of this mass migration, our public schools have experienced a sudden rise in enrolment, which will eventually be the cause of heavy workloads for our teachers who are now still trying to cope with the new teaching modalities. To have 50 students in a single class, in whatever form of distance learning modality- online or modular would be very difficult and demanding- physically, emotionally and mentally. Some teachers were forced to handle multiple modalities, like teaching online and teaching thru modular means. Those with special duties like the teacher-broadcasters, researchers or writers are still given classroom tasks instead of focusing on these novel assignments.

Thus, there should be a comprehensive assistance package especially for the small private schools that are dependent on the enrolment fees for their operation and the mission schools in far-flung areas that cater to the least fortunate communities. The government may either subsidize some of our private schools or immediately hire the displaced private school teachers and employees and evenly distribute the workloads. In doing so, the DepEd could modify the hiring procedure so that positions that are included in 2020 budget could be filled up immediately prior to the October 5 class resumption.

The DepEd may determine the ideal class size of not more than 25 learners in intermediate and secondary; 20 for primary and 15 for kindergarten, for example.

7. Educational broadcast in free TV and radio and internet access to communities

While DepEd is working for TV and radio broadcast and in fact have trained hundreds of teachers for the job, it is equally important to determine the platform for these materials. The government may compel the major TV and radio companies to provide free airtime for DepEd programs. Frequencies, as we all knew are owned by the state, anyway.

Telecommunications is perhaps the most resilient of all industries under this pandemic situation and thus, should give back to the public parts of their huge earnings and provide cheap or even free internet access to selected communities. They could do this by sponsoring a computer center for the use of learners in particular areas or providing for free internet or cellular phone data to teachers and learners.

8. Clarification on the policies on loan from GSIS and Private Lending Institutions

There are still the nagging and now even more intensified pain brought about by GSIS and PLIs. Bayanihan’s good intentions are now coming to naught because of all the confusing moratoriums, grace periods, extended load terms and many others. Do all these simply mean no interest, less interest, merely delayed interest, or more interest in the end? Do these entities see the pandemic as an opportunity to do their part in saving the country or just another business opportunity?

9. Finally, consider postponement to January 2021

We need, therefore, to ensure that this school year would not be another compliance for compliances sake but an honest to goodness, well thought out, meticulously designed program that would meet the unforgiving demands of the pandemic. From curriculum, to learning materials, to digital infrastructure, realistic, yet reliable assessment, effective teacher support, learner support, and parent support, the whole nine yards.

Should the DepEd yet again fail to address these concerns, while dark clouds remain above us and our children, immediate consideration for postponement of class opening to January 2021 will inevitably be sought.

The government should initiate wide consultations with stakeholders, training for teachers, orientation with parents and preparation of the needed mechanisms and infrastructure for the several methods of distance learning modality. Emphasis is given to open communication and even collaboration with the teachers’ groups- they are not mere antagonists, but rather productive partners, especially public school teachers who will be the main front liners of education sector. It is noted that the DepEd from planning stage up to now did not bother to involve or even consult our teachers in a clear violation of the particular provisions of Magna Carta for Public School Teachers (RA 4670) and the general democratic principle of stakeholder participation.

Should another school calendar adjustment be considered, time will not be wasted while we are preparing the system for this new normal. Children and their families may still continue informal learning using several platforms like children’s television shows which can be promptly imposed by the state, reading of books and other educational materials, conduct of alternative learning sessions within the community or even guided online researches for those who have access.

The DepEd’s belief that there will be no education if there’s no official declaration of school opening on August 24 is a flawed assertion.

Source: Teachers Dignity Coalition FB Page

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