The educational sectors’ response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic seems identical among all countries: online classes. While this is certainly the most sensible way to prevent the spreading of the virus, its feasibility varies from one country to another, and if we are to identify who are most likely to successfully implement this new type of teaching and learning style, it becomes clear that the conduct of online classes is not just a matter of whether or not learning can be facilitated well but who will actually benefit from it and who will be disadvantaged by it.
In this country, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, education has always been a class problem. We have seen how our educational system further intensifies the gap between the poor and the well-offs by making schools physically inaccessible and economically expensive. Online classes as a response to the pandemic underscores this economic divide.
For one, access to the internet is not free and while there are a very small number of places that offer free internet connection, it is slower than a snail. A 2014 UN report reveals that only less than half of the Philippine population has access to the internet. This is understandable; in a country where citizens struggle to meet the minimum requirement for survival, internet connection is not a priority.
Even if each student is given free internet connection, not everyone has access to devices used in online classes. Again, this is a matter of priority: one would choose food and shelter over smartphones and gadgets. Students financially struggling to reproduce a couple of handouts cannot be expected to buy devices for online classes.
Several alternatives may be offered though, but each defeats the purpose of this pedagogical shift. Students may go to cheap internet café. This does not only increase the likelihood that the virus spreads, this means students need to pay on top of already costly school expenses. It is also absurd to suggest that schools themselves must offer internet and computers, for online classes are suggested exactly because we do not want students to be traveling to school and congregating inside the campus.
This suggests that for as long as internet connection is inaccessible, online classes as a teaching and learning paradigm would remain to be inaccessible, too. If you cannot afford the resources needed, you either would not be able to enjoy the education you deserve, or you would be forced to take the risk of being exposed to a virus. There may be no other alternative.
It appears, with our current set-up, that online education would favor those who are economically advantaged and disenfranchise those who are in the margins. This is not the fault of the virus, for our educational system has always been like this even before. We might, later on, come up with some alternatives and solutions, but they will never alter the condition of our educational system unless they address the socio-economic root cause of the problem.
The recent pandemic and its effect on education reveal that we need to be paying close attention to our technological development and its availability among our people. Technological aid in education (and in other aspects) is inarguably necessary; its availability, however, is uncertain. More importantly, to address the lack of technology means to address our socio-economic concerns, for one cannot just be afforded with a smartphone while his plate remains empty. And if the policies the government creates continue to be influenced by some elite groups, or if the government itself is infested with people from the elite group, how can these issues be resolved? How can a genuine reform in the education sector be achieved? How can we survive another pandemic whose effects are intensified by our lack of socioeconomic development? (davaotoday.com)