(Photo from legacy.senate.gov.ph)

With no end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic, senatorial candidate and Sorsogon Governor Chiz Escudero is pushing for better internet service across the country to close some gaps in distance schooling.

Escudero referenced recent research that revealed that during the pandemic, children’s cognitive capacities were impaired by low to no connectivity.

He said in a statement that the country’s hard and long lockdowns, which he described as “among the most stringent in the world” following the coronavirus outbreak in March 2020, had prompted the Department of Education (DepEd) to halt in-person classes nationwide and shift to online learning as a way to ensure the safety and security of students and faculty members.

However, according to a recent World Bank research titled “Remote Learning During COVID-19: Lessons for Today,” lack of internet access and sluggish internet connections have harmed Filipino schoolchildren’s education, with 9 out of 10 students unable to read.

According to World Bank predictions, the country’s learning poverty would reach 90 percent by August 2021, up from 69.5 percent before the outbreak. The Philippines, like Ethiopia, has the lowest rate of distance learning, covering just 20% of families with kids.

“Ito na nga ang masakit at hubad na katotohanan ng remote learning na ipinilit ipatupad sa buong bansa kahit sa mga lugar na wala naman o mababa ang kaso ng COVID-19,” Escudero said.

“Nakaka-alarma na nga ang estado ng edukasyon bago mag-pandemya, tapos nabiktima naman ang ating mga mag-aaral ng magulong pagpapatupad ng distance learning,” he added.

He cited the case of Sorsogon where more than 50% of the barangays are COVID-free, which could have been exempt from the remote learning imposed by the DepEd.

Escudero, a veteran legislator, is calling for massive investments for faster internet speed and wider coverage to make connectivity accessible to more students, as he expects hybrid learning to continue for some time even with the limited face-to-face classes recently implemented by the education department.

“Sa datos ng World Bank, mga 26.9 porsyento lamang ng mga estudyante ang may access sa internet sa bansa. Paano naman ang mahigit na 70 porsyento na wala na ngang gadget, wala na ngang internet at paminsa-minsan ay walang kuryente sa kanilang mga kabahayan? Pababayaan na lamang ba natin silang maging mangmang?” said Escudero, who is seeking a fresh six-year mandate in the coming national elections.

As of January 2021, the country is now in sixth place in mobile internet speed among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Globally, the country moved up to the 86th spot in the mobile internet speed rankings in the same period, a marked improvement from its 111th rank in 2020.

The average download rate in the Philippines improved to 38.12 megabits per second (Mbps) last October from the previous month’s 35.03 Mbps, or an 8.82% improvement for mobile internet speed, according to Ookla Speedtest Global Index. However, fixed broadband speed slightly dipped to 71.08 Mbps from 71.85 Mbps during the same period.

“Even as we enter the new normal, expect that distance learning modalities will be here for some time,” Escudero said. “Kaya kailangang mag-invest talaga sa internet connectivity para sa blended future distance learning ng ating mga estudyante. Huwag naman nating iwanan ang mga kabataan,” the former senator said.

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