UP: Each College Student Needs Up To P110,000 For Remote Learning; Support Sought For The Disadvantaged
The COVID-19 pandemic is highlighting the daunting challenges faced by students as academic institutions shift to distance learning. Several initiatives have been launched to bridge the gap and help financially disadvantaged students.
From the lack of necessary equipment to limited access to the internet, the shift to distance learning has underscored the daunting challenges faced by students coming from disadvantaged sectors.
Thousands – if not millions – of students are bracing for difficulties that may hinder their education as academic institutions adjust to the threats posed by the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.
On Tuesday, July 21, the University of the Philippines launched an initiative to help students who are expected to face challenges with UP’s shift to remote learning next semester.
“Ang ating mga mag-aaral, bagaman matalino at maparaan, ay hindi magkakatulad sa katayuang pinansyal, pribilehiyo, at iba pang pangangailangan (Our students, though bright and resourceful, do not have the same situations financially and in terms of privileges and other needs),” UP president Danilo Concepcion said during the launch of the program.
He noted that a total of 5,600 exceptional and deserving UP students would find it hard to keep up with the transition to remote and online learning once classes open in September.
Concepcion said this is beyond the control of the students, and the circumstances are definitely not their fault. “Samakatuwid, 5,600 iskolar ng bayan ang maiiwan at mapag-iiwanan (Therefore, 5,600 national scholars will be left out and left behind),” he noted.
According to UP, around 1,600 of its roughly 60,000 students in different campuses do not have the resources to acquire a computer and stable internet access.
Another 4,000 students belong to households categorized as “vulnerable,” or those whose incomes cannot fully support these needs due to the effects of the pandemic.
Called Kaagapay sa Pag-aaral ng mga Iskolar ng Bayan or #KaagapayUP, the project aims to raise funds to provide financially challenged students with their own laptop computers and internet connectivity that can help them access UP’s remote learning courses next semester.
“As its name suggests, the Kaagapay sa Pag-aaral program encourages the global UP community to support its most financially challenged students. The project aims to create a culture of philanthropy on all levels, from the alumni to the student body, and to promote the practice of giving back and paying it forward,” the university said.
“More importantly, the project was created to inspire confidence among UP’s own students in the thought of having someone at their side in times of need. This is poignantly symbolized by the project’s icon, two sunflowers growing side-by-side, representing not only mutual support, but hope,” it stressed.
The university pointed out that a typical college student may need as much as P110,000 for remote learning alone.
This includes P30,000 for a laptop computer with suitable specifications and P80,000 for internet connectivity for four years.
UP created packages to allow people to donate from as little as P100 up to the entire P110,000 needed by a student.
Donations may be made through the Give to UP portal at http://kaagapay.up.edu.ph.
Concepcion said UP is seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to push for a more progressive means to teach, learn, explore and serve the country at the same time, just like other aspects of people’s lives at this time.
“Para sa atin, ang iwanan ang kahit isang iskolar ng bayan ay hindi katanggap-tanggap (For us, leaving behind even just one national scholar is unacceptable),” he added.
‘Piso para sa laptop’
The need for assistance to support financially disadvantaged students is not limited to UP.
Over the past weeks, for instance, several parents and students have initiated “Piso para sa laptop” initiatives on social media to seek support for their distance learning needs.
“I'm asking for a little amount to help me buy laptop and other needs in school for my two daughters. My elder is a high school scholar and consistent honor student since elementary. My youngest is incoming Grade 1,” one parent wrote.
A student, in a series of tweets, said: “I’m here to ask for some help since my family couldn’t afford to fund my educational resources and our necessities at the same time… I recently completed my junior high school (with honors) and I really hope to do well in this academic year despite not being mentally and emotionally prepared. I have no one to share this burden with.”
Some students have also been promoting online businesses to raise funds for their education.
Several initiatives have also been launched to support students, such as the gadget donation drive initiated by the office of Vice President Leni Robredo, and those from the private sector.
The National Union of Students of the Philippines previously warned that millions of disadvantaged students might be left behind due to the additional costs of distance learning.
“The government must not insist on flexible/blended learning to become the new normal in education because many more students will be deprived of their right to education in such a set-up,” the group stated.
“The shift to flexible/blended learning has already caused too much stress to students and families who do not have internet connection and the necessary gadgets,” it said.
For its part, the Department of Education (DepEd) has repeatedly maintained that gadgets are not required for students in basic education, or those enrolled in kindergarten to senior high school.
The agency intends to adopt a blended learning modality for the incoming school year, which includes different delivery modes such as through printed modules, television and radio.
DepEd has conducted a survey during the enrollment period to determine the capacity of households to adopt distance learning modalities.
Those without gadgets will be provided with printed self-learning modules, while those with devices but no access to internet will receive digital modules saved in flash drives.
Officials earlier said that the misconception that distance learning would only be conducted online could have contributed to the low enrollment, which was at 78 percent as of July 22.
Meanwhile, at the college level, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) said higher education institutions (HEIs) must take into account the availability of resources for faculty and students when deciding on a learning system to adopt.
“Clearly, the choice and design of flexible learning systems by HEIs must take into consideration the internet access available to the HEIs, faculty and students,” CHED chairman J. Prospero De Vera III said in May.
“CHED therefore does not make these decisions for individual HEIs, and cannot and will not prohibit the use of online learning systems,” he added, responding to a report misquoting him that he is against online learning.
In addition to using online-based systems, CHED says flexible learning may also use non-digital technology such as radio to allow education to continue even without internet connectivity.
Modules containing reading materials and tasks may also be provided to students.
On the P110,000 remote learning requirement computed by UP, De Vera said this is assuming that online learning would continue for the next four years.
“When things improve, flexible learning will have substantial face-to-face learning,” he told The Philippine STAR.
“That is also assuming internet connectivity will not improve for four years and that Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT)’s free Wi-Fi will not happen in four years,” he added.
De Vera said the DICT is budgeting P7.7 billion for connectivity next year, which is expected to provide free internet for students.
The DICT previously bared plans to convert computer shops into learning hubs that students can use for distance learning.
At the local level, several local government units (LGUs) have allocated funds to support students and teachers for the incoming school year.
In Quezon City, a supplemental budget of P2.9 billion was approved to fund relevant and appropriate learning materials for more than 430,000 expected enrollees in public schools in the city.
It includes an allocation to provide tablets for over 175,000 high school students, as well as modules, learning packets containing flash drives and other additional printed materials for those in kindergarten to grade school levels.
The budget will also be used to fund the internet allowance for public school teachers in city.
Another P209 million was approved to finance a laptop lending program for teachers and students at QC University.
For its part, the city government of Manila allocated P994 million to procure tablets for 110,000 households with an estimated 275,000 public school students. The amount will also be used to procure 11,000 laptops for teachers.
Such support, however, is highly dependent on the availability of funds, which are becoming depleted as LGUs are also expected to allocate a portion of their budget for pandemic response.
In an open letter to DepEd, Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla on July 13 said the province needs P5 billion to implement modular learning and teaching process for the incoming school year.
The entire provincial budget for the year, he pointed out, is only P4.7 billion.
“It is unfortunate that in the time of COVID, every Filipino student should be given a chance at proper education. Yet the reality is only the rich can afford to learn,” he lamented.
In response, DepEd said it has identified various strategies to fund the implementation of the learning continuity plan.
It explained that the special education fund of the LGUs is only one of the six sources that are available to finance the programs for the upcoming school year.
Other strategies include reprogramming of the DepEd’s budget, use of available maintenance and other operating expenses of schools, accessing official development assistance programs, strengthening private sector contributions through Brigada Eskwela, and requesting a supplemental budget from Congress or the Department of Budget and Management.
“The internal reprogramming of existing programs and projects is the major funding source for the basic education learning continuity place,” the agency said.
“With it, the DepEd Central Office will download funds to regions and schools division offices for the development and production of self-learning materials, and implementation of the blended learning delivery,” it added.