Disjointed coverage fails to report the huge crisis in education
THE RETURN of students each year has always involved all kinds of problems for the country’s educational system: perennial overcrowding in schools, and the lack of classrooms, teachers and textbooks. CMFR has noted how Philippine media hardly try to break out of the rote coverage of these problems year in, year out, and are unable to plumb the extent of the systemic failure of the largest bureaucracy to better provide such a basic need.
This year, space is not the paramount issue, as the government grapples with issues of public health and safety and COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc. . Infection rates in the country have hardly receded since the beginning of what is now a three-month long lockdown in Metro Manila and Luzon. Sadly, some cities and municipalities that had minimal to zero cases during the quarantine period are now reporting infections. Can students, particularly those at the K-12 levels, be assured of safety and protection?
For DepEd, cancelling school was not an option. Media reported in early May that the agency presented its recommendations to the IATF in a Basic Education – Learning Continuity Plan. DepEd said that school year 2020-2021 would formally start on August 24; employing a blended learning approach which combines distance learning as a “major component” and traditional face-to-face classes, the latter permitted only by the degree of COVID-19 infections in the locality. Last May 11, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in an online press briefing that the IATF had accepted the plan.
But the public exchange revealed the disagreement within government about when classes could resume. President Duterte said on May 25 that schools should not open until a vaccine becomes available. Health Secretary Francisco Duque had earlier said the DepEd’s proposed date would be safe, with the observance of health standards, but backtracked to echo the president, insisting on the necessity of a vaccine. Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque clarified that Duterte meant face-to-face classes should not resume. Media added nothing much to this exchange.
Indeed, different stakeholders shared their various concerns as the enrollment period began. Media also reported these but coverage remained disjointed, as news organizations focused on various aspects without presenting a comprehensive view of the unprecedented challenges hounding the reopening of schools.
CMFR monitored the coverage of three Manila-based broadsheets (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin), four primetime news programs (GMA-7’s 24 Oras, ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, CNN Philippines’ News Night and TV5’s One Balita Pilipinas) and selected online news sites from May 25 to June 24.
Media gave prominence to rising concerns in the education sector. Coverage started in early May to report DepEd’s preparations for the shift in learning strategies and the adjustments in the enrollment process. Journalists also followed through with the June registration, documenting the lower number of enrollees, the difficulties in remote enrollment during the first two weeks, and the wariness of parents, teachers and students about their lack of resources and skills for distance learning.
But key questions were not discussed. How effective is the blended learning system without physical, face-to-face classes? While the original proposal of DepEd included the classroom component, it was removed from the options after Duterte said he did not want physical classes to resume without a vaccine. Reports said that in the May 28 IATF meeting, Duterte and Briones agreed on the blended learning system without physical classes. On June 5, Duterte expressed his doubts about the country’s readiness for online learning, again insisting on a vaccine as a requirement for physical classes.
Lawmakers from both Houses of Congress also cited the unpreparedness for distance learning as they filed bills to amend the current law mandating the start of the school year within June to August. The bills give the president the prerogative to decide on the date of class resumption during times of calamity or emergency.
With the exception of OneNews.ph that pointed to “confusion” and “differing views,” media merely followed these developments without calling attention to the lack of agreement on the start of classes or the shift to blended learning.
How prepared is DepEd itself for the challenge posed by a new method of teaching? Reports carried Briones’ statements claiming that the country is not new to blended learning and that teacher training is making sure everyone is prepared for it. But journalists did not further the discussion of the problems that could arise from this shift.
Besides quoting concerns from teachers’ groups, media did not find other experts, organizations or even government offices that could evaluate the capacity of the public school system to effectively implement blended learning. A Rappler report accurately noted that the pandemic has “turned the spotlight” on the longstanding problem of uneven access to education. But no report looked into the “digital divide” that has contributed to this inequality.
Despite the dominant concerns of parents and teachers about connectivity, journalists did not ask the DICT and the NTC about the difficulties posed by distance learning and the views of the agencies on the matter.
With significant economic losses and a declining enrolment rates, how can the private education sector keep itself afloat? The Inquirer and Star both brought up the potential mass layoffs or closures of private schools and the possible migration of students to the already overpopulated public schools. These issues were raised by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines. But no reports checked with the Palace or DepEd about government’s response to the plight of private schools and the displacement of their students.
Journalists documented each problem arising from the shift to blended learning, but no news organization tried to put together a comprehensive picture of the challenges that public and private schools face. The compartmentalized coverage did little to force the officials to look at the range of concerns of parents, teachers, students and private institutions. The coverage did not reflect the long-term issues of the impact of the pandemic on education because journalists again fixed their reporting on what officials had to say. Sadly, the Duterte administration has not viewed the problems faced by the entire education system beyond the resumption of classes and the school year that is about to begin.