A Deeper Look into the Philippine Educational System During the Pandemic due to COVID-19

Teaching is considered the noblest profession of all due to the significant contribution of teachers in different fields. We tend to glorify and honor our teachers every October to celebrate the World Teacher’s Day—celebrating their struggles, successes, and triumphs in molding every student inside their classroom to a better society and pursuing the common good. But with all these spectacles and our high regard for our teachers, why are there still problems regarding teachers’ benefits? Professionalism? Workload? Without education, we, as people, cannot strive towards greatness, progress, and prosperity. It closes the gap between different social strata as it aims to equalize everyone. 

The Importance of Education 

Through education, we can gain mastery. When we want to become a great artist, it’s an educational process of absorbing and scrutinizing information and techniques just to get the right stroke of a paint brush. When you want to comprehend something, you should know how to know first. Then, you can comprehend. After that, you can analyze, explain, synthesize, evaluate, and create something out of it. As Greene (2014) puts it, “You should value learning above anything else.” 

For example, here is person A: a wealthy entrepreneur who goes with the mantra, “Ako ay madiskarte.” to justify his business ventures and capital gains without attaining much higher education. He worked hard to become a successful entrepreneur by selling food around the city. Then, here is person B: a young professional who came from his humble beginnings. When he was a student, he applied to different scholarships to support his studies. And now that he is a young professional, he strives to gain more education by enrolling in graduate school. Between the two of them, who among them you think is greater? The wealthy entrepreneur who got his wealth due to diskarte? Or the young professional who got his education by studying hard? The answer is that no one is greater than the other. They both worked hard to achieve their current social status. But here is the point of contention—is both of them contributing to the common good? Suppose we apply Jean-Paul Sartre’s concept of authenticity, we cannot declare which is right and wrong in this scenario because their individual decisions give authenticity to their being. But, if one of them has amalgamated their social status into their own self, they have committed bad faith (Burton, 2012). 

Given this scenario, we tend to debate on whether we value ‘diskarte’ over education or value both of them. I think this dichotomization of different paths is dangerous because of several considerations. Education is a right. We cannot deny the fact that education gives freedom and self-actualization to the people. When you have education, you have the power to beat your former self in the process of learning. 

On the other hand, as per Bordieu (Riley, 2020), education can serve as a manifestation of legitimacy of the dominant class in which schooling and examination can be interpreted into the wider gaps in social strata. As I could remember the song of Apoc the Death Architect entitled, “Piyesa ng Makina”, in first verse of that song, he explicitly describes the mindset that was dictated to us by our parents, relatives, friends, and superiors—that we need to to study hard in order for us to get a reputable social status—being a boss, corporate head, supervisor, and such. This mindset, however, points many of us to the path that we have spent at least 14-16 years of studying just to realize that we were molded to become a piece of grandiose machinery. 

Using the above mentioned perspectives, these raise some questions regarding the current situation of our educational system such as how can we make education truly equalizing? What are the true aims of education? Why is it hard for many of us to integrate and inculcate education for it to become universal and accessible to everyone of us? 

The Universal Access to Quality Education 

In the 1990s, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) advocated the Education For All program (EFA) (with the following aims: 1) early childhood education and care must be prioritized and improved—especially for those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged children 2) that by 2015, all people, especially girls, can have an access to quality free primary education regardless of their current circumstances, 3) secure the equitable access to education of all young people and adults with right skills, learning and technical programs, 4) improve the adult literacy around the world by 50% in 2015—which can gain them access to pursue higher education and post-graduate education, 5) eradicate wide gender inequality for both basic or primary and secondary education by 2005 and achieve equality by 2015, and 6) to ensure quality education and equitable accessibility to literacy and life skills in pursuing development (Noel, 2014).

If you notice, these aims are all related to both Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (2000-2015) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (2015-2030). Both frameworks set by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aim for universal access to quality education. The second goal of the MDGs was focused more on the universal access of children around the world to quality primary education. As per the United Nations (2015), the net enrolment in primary education in developing countries, such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, and some countries in Latin America has reached 91% compared in the year 2000 wherein there were only 83% of the total net enrolment which means that there were only 8% increase in this target. Aside from this, the number of out-of-school-youth (OSY) all over the world has been reduced by half from more than 100 million in 2000 down to 57 million in 2015. 

Other than these, there are more target points regarding this goal—in which the majority of them failed because the MDGs’ main goal was to achieve their 8-point goal agenda by 2015 altogether. That was why the United Nations set up another framework for the years 2015-2030 called “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) to ensure that these goal agendas will be hit by 2030. In this framework, the United Nations decided to widen the scope of the goal for education—which means that it does not only cover access to primary education, but rather a whole set of facets concerning education concerning equity, inclusiveness, accessibility, and quality inside Goal 4Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all (Albert et al.,2019). 

As we focus on the target points of Goal 4 of the SDGs, there are reports in the Philippines to monitor the country’s progress with regards to achieving the 17 goals that the UNDP set in 2015. For example, in 2017, the target 4.1, which the completion, cohort survival, and dropout/school leavers in primary and lower secondary education in both public and private schools has been assessed. In the National Capital Region alone, the cohort survival rate for primary education was at 94.7% while at the secondary level, it was around 90.6% (Albert et al.,2019). This data regarding target 4.1 of Goal 4 can change due to the fact that the Philippines is the 22nd amongst the countries with the highest COVID-19 cases with 257,863 total cases (including active, recoveries, and deaths) (Worldometers, 2020). 

The Government’s Response to COVID-19 

In relation to this, a day after the ides of March in 2020, Duterte ordered the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) throughout the island of Luzon—which caused a lot of panic and pressure to all people around the country because of the following: 1) All means of transportation were cancelled during this time. That is why most people in Metro Manila rushed to different bus terminals in Cubao, Quezon City, PITX in Parañaque, and other major terminals in NCR. They needed to go back to their respective provinces to stay for a while because the months of March, April, and May are vacation periods for many Filipinos—in which they need to go back to their respective homes to make errands with regards to their families and; 2) major corporate, academic, and business establishments will be closed during the implementation of ECQ – which means that there is a need for the government to provide aid to millions of jobless Filipinos because many of these companies implement a no-work-no-pay policy (Lopez, 2020). The implementation became varied from the Enhanced Community Quarantine down to Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine and General Community Quarantine. 

These implementations can be avoided if the Philippine government urgently did its job to issue a travel ban to all Chinese—especially to those who came from Wuhan, China, which was the epicenter of the COVID-19 virus. That is why the Department of Education decided to suspend classes indefinitely until the situation is stable. 

Education amidst the Pandemic 

Due to this, the 4th quarter formative and summative assessments had to be done virtually. Many commencement exercises were being done virtually and some schools decided to deliver the diplomas of their student candidates directly to their houses. What is worse was that as of September 9, 2020, as per the Department of Education (DepEd), there are about 748 out of 14,435 private basic educational institutions (BEIs) that suspended their operations due to the on-going pandemic. In return, these suspension of operations greatly affected at least 3,233 teachers who lost their jobs and around 40,345 learners (both primary and secondary) (Mateo, 2020) who lost their opportunity to access universal equitable quality education. 

On the other hand, public school teachers also struggled to prepare modules for their students as a result of the implementation of modular distance and online learning – which was formulated due to the fact that not all schools in the Philippines have a strong Wi-Fi connection. Aside from that, many students have resorted to launched #PisoParasaLaptop campaign to help them in preparing for online learning. Thus, these adjustments have been proven to be tough, considering that there are different factors to be considered to conduct successful online learning. We need to consider if the current residence of the learner is conducive to learning. In Principles of Teaching, it is essential that learning is conducive—which means that the physical setup of the learner should make the learner better (Augustine, 2015). For example, a student needs to create a setup for conducting online classes due to the on-going pandemic. Because of this, he needs to buy a new laptop, a secured Wi-Fi connection, an earphone/headset, and a study table for him to use for study purposes. 

Aside from this, the student needs to have a good environment for him to focus—meaning there are no/little distractions, unnecessary noises, and proper ventilation. But in reality, we cannot tell this because, as we know, the majority of the learners in the Philippines only live in closed spaces—which can greatly hinder their focus and concentration in having and maintaining a conducive online learning environment. We can tell that only those who are in the middle class and upper class can afford to have a perfect description of a conducive learning environment. 

As a response, many can relate to the situation wherein whenever a teacher or a student will conduct an online class, they will immediately inform their parents, siblings, and close relatives to stay quiet for some time for them to focus on the class itself. Now, here is when we can include an opinion of Dr. Randy Dellosa, a psychiatrist, in which he said that study-from-home and work-from-home setup could add stress levels to both the teacher/worker and student/learner. Also he said that there is no distinction between work, school, and home because you are only inside your home every time—which means that whenever there is a task that is given to you, you need to do it immediately—conflicting the relaxation mode that we experience when we are inside of our homes (Malig, 2020).

Education and Mental Health

Mental health is one of the rising concerns that the Department of Education is currently facing in its decision to pursue its nationwide classes on October 5, 2020, which is also the celebration of the World Teacher’s Day worldwide. As per DepEd, they are currently conducting psychosocial support sessions once a week nationwide to students and teachers. They claimed that there are natural calamities that would affect the eagerness of learners and teachers to push for online learning. They will also tap national organizations for psychologists and counselors to help them in implementing these sessions (Hernando-Malipot, 2020). 

The concern with regards to this is that how are they going to implement this program? Also, will the sessions provided be implemented with quality? How many teachers and students are willing to participate in these sessions? Will there be concrete steps and recommendations to help the teachers and students in relation to these? These are some of the questions that I think whenever I encounter psychosocial services to teachers and students. In relation to this, DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones shared that mental health is a big challenge to students and teachers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The secretary sought the opportunity to strengthen its collaboration with the Psychological Association of the Philippines in implementing psychological and mental health support services to teachers and students (Aguilar, 2020), given that there are reports around the world regarding the rise of suicide rates related to COVID-19. In fact, in 2019, Rep. Rida Robles cited a 2017 report of the World Health Organization wherein there are about 8 in every 100,000 Filipinos who commit suicide—6 males and 2 females, ages 15-29 years old – which proves that there is a traditional approach wherein males tend to hide their feelings and emotional struggles—which we can link to patriarchy and the mentality that men are stronger than women (Kennard, 2020). 

Moreover, different Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and Professional, Academic, and Civic Organizations (PACOs) should conduct studies and external services to help the teachers and students in dealing with the mental health issues that they are currently experiencing. It is essential that aside from conducting various studies to cater and determine the accuracy of data, we should be proactive in solving this matter to improve the state of the Human Development Index (HDI) education factor in the Philippines, as well as the mission of different stakeholders and CSOs to commit to the goal of accessing universal quality education for all. It is also important for us to communicate our concerns and seek help with regards to these matters because mental health is essential to all—regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation, and color of the skin. 

Academic Freeze

Together with the rise of concern on mental health, some groups and sectors are giving recommendations to the Department of Education and the Commission of Higher Education led by Sec. Leonor Briones and Comm. Prospero “Popoy” De Vera III. In relation to this, the Department of Education dismissed the petition to implement an academic freeze for S.Y. 2020-2021. As early as July, youth groups and other sectors, particularly the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) are demanding an academic freeze due to the circumstances of millions of Filipinos brought up by the COVID-19 pandemic such as the difficulty in accessibility to a stable Wi-Fi connection, conducive learning, and lack of protection to the teachers and academic employees who might be caught with the virus as they continue to work—with the condition that both the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education to compensate the salaries of all staff under their institutions (Hallare, 2020). 

But in response, DepEd ignored the call for an academic freeze due to their claim that the majority of the parents and students in the basic education are supporting the idea of pushing the classes on October 5, 2020. Also, DepEd spokesperson Nepomuceno Malaluan said that it was a, “populist position that is not popular because we have the support of 24 million students and their parents” (Hernando-Malipot, 2020)—which was conflicting to the earlier data given by SPARK in July on their call to implement an academic freeze. 

Given this scenario, there are some concerns that we need to consider regarding this matter. First, how are the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) provide salaries to all admin staff, tenured professors, part-time lecturers, teachers, and academic personnel if they cannot do a full compensation of salaries because there are no clear and direct source of income aside from the government funds—which majority of it were loaned from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and World Bank (WB) even before the pandemic? (Agcaoili, 2019) (Asian Development Bank, 2020) 

Also, it raised a concern regarding the private basic education institutions (BEIs) because, as we all know, the majority of private schools in the Philippines only generate income to be used as salaries of their teachers and staff by means of continuing their operations. With the implementation of the academic freeze, their jobs will be at stake because the main argument regarding this advocacy is that there should be no one student left behind. Given the scenario that DepEd targeted at least 80% of its last year’s enrollment rate and got at least 86.31% of the entire enrollment with around 23,987,944 in public schools nationwide and approximately 1,923,179 students in private schools (Hernando-Malipot, 2020). 

This is a reasonable quantity, but there the thing is that the universal access to quality education will be compromised. Given the above mentioned conditions of the majority of our students, we cannot ensure that education can be delivered with quality. As a teacher myself, I can tell that not all regions in the Philippines have an equal access to quality education because it further widens the gap between social strata. I do believe that teachers are doing their job—some of them are using their own money and resources just to provide modules for their students. I can tell that both the teachers and students are victims of this system, because the pandemic exposed the flaw in the Philippine educational system—full of bureaucracy, politicking, and compartmentalization. 

This is the reason why we were enraged with Daryll Yap’s Online Class Rant which featured an episode regarding a student’s rant about her teacher and the online class itself. This short film further solidified our stand against teacher exploitation, and an emerging concern regarding an excess of student’s entitlement. Due to this, some teachers have raised their concerns that if the government will implement academic freeze, the time to conduct classes will go to waste because they claimed that there are students who can afford to play Mobile Legends: Bang Bang all day without doing anything—which I think is a common sentiment in relation to their false consciousness that they are liberated and can emancipate – without knowing their true struggles. To quote Freire (1970):

“The pedagogy of the oppressed, animated by authentic, humanist (not humanitarian) generosity, presents itself as a pedagogy of humankind. Pedagogy which begins with the egoistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism, itself maintains and embodies oppression. It is an instrument of dehumanization. This is why, as we affirmed earlier, the pedagogy of the oppressed cannot be developed or practiced by the oppressors. It would be a contradiction in terms if the oppressors not only defended but actually implemented a liberating education.”

In return, we need to change the system in order for us to integrate and self-actualize. Thus, Freire’s statement, once realized, can be a factor for both the teachers and students to free from their own bird cages—resulting in freedom from servitude. Once they have attained this core value of development (Todaro and Smith, 2011), alienation can be dismantled and an education that is liberating and awakening can be fully implemented. 


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Juniesy Estanislao is a licensed professional teacher (LPT) teaching Araling Panlipunan in Junior High School at the Ingenium School Inc in Marikina City. He is also a current graduate student taking Masters of Art in Philippine Studies major in Development Studies at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines-Diliman.

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