Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo called on the Department of Education (DepEd) to heed the concerns raised by education experts, teachers, parents, and students regarding the opening of classes this school year.

With the shift to distance or blended learning until a vaccine is available, Robredo said in a letter to Education Secretary Leonor Briones that there is a need to cascade information more efficiently, given that some teachers have yet to receive the modules needed for teaching.

According to Robredo, 61% or around 14 million households do not have internet access, and 74% or about 34,700 schools do not have the infrastructure to engage in online learning.

The Office of the Vice President also received numerous requests for teaching supplies, which underscores the need to consider utilizing resources and how teachers can gain access to additional resources.

Robredo suggested establishing a mechanism for transparency that includes how much is left and where the department’s budget is going.  She also suggested realigning the unutilized 2019 DepEd budget to support teachers.

She recommended using the 2020 P29.5 billion budget for rehabilitation of school buildings in procuring gadgets and equipment needed for distance learning and addressing health concerns of educators.

Teachers also raised concerns about their safety while still awaiting DepEd’s concrete plans on ensuring their health while conducting classes while the country is still grappling with the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.  The teachers also ask DepEd for the support they can expect if they become infected.

Robredo advised the Education Department to set up a Covid-19 mass testing mechanism with testing and distribution of results completed before classes start and to guarantee that hazard pay reaches teachers regularly and on-time.

She also proposed setting aside sufficient funds for physical check-ups, ensuring teachers have the right materials to do their work, and designing a system to address their health and wellness needs.

The vice president also suggested using the P700 million budget allocated for in-service training in testing the teachers for Covid-19.

The department’s “Non-negotiable Minimum Requirements for Online Distance Learning/Blended Learning,” which includes 24-hour technical support, helpdesk personnel to answer teacher and student queries, and the publication in their platforms of fully-detailed modules and plans also drew the attention of the vice president.

According to Robredo, the requirement is burdensome given the dynamic nature of the teaching-learning process, especially at a time of significant adjustment for educational institutions whose teachers do not have the same degree of competence to deliver in the online mode.

“The times call for them to be approached with compassion and flexibility. Rather than approach educators from a restrictive frame of mind, perhaps a more empowering and support-driven approach will be more effective,” Robredo said. Isabel S. Macaraeg