Robredo seeks budget realignments to help with shift to blended education

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 13) — Vice President Leni Robredo urged the Department of Education to realign items in their budget to respond to the needs of teachers and students as the big shift of the country’s education system to blended learning nears.

Robredo said in an August 10 letter that her office has consolidated and recommendations from education experts, advocates, teachers, parents and students who reached out to it.

Among them is that the ₱29.5 billion allotted for DepEd’s school building program could be used to “address the health concerns of educators.”

Robredo argued that physical spaces will not be occupied anyway in light of President Rodrigo Duterte’s pronouncement that no face-to-face classes will be allowed unless a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for mass distribution.

The Vice President said a portion of the money could also be utilized to procure gadgets and other equipment required for a new kind of schooling, which already forced millions of students to forego their education.

Robredo added that around ₱700 million has been set aside for the in-service training of teachers this year. But many of these trainings have already been, or will be, conducted online, “thus freeing up resources that would otherwise have been used for travel and accommodations.”

Robredo also noted an observation from Senator Ping Lacson that a “significant amount of the 2019 DepEd budget was left unutilized.”

These funding resources could be tapped to support instructors’ needs, which include a COVID-19 mass testing program and provision of the much-needed supplies to do their work, she said.

Mechanism for transparency

Robredo also called on DepEd to find a way to apprise the public, and most importantly the teachers, of how much is left from their resources as well as inform them where the funds go, so they could understand the challenges faced by the agency and help them decide which programs can still be “effectively implemented.”

Under Department Order 14, DepEd can set aside subsidy for the testing of learners, teachers and personnel, “subject to availability of funds and applicable budget and accounting regulations.”

Education Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla said in a Facebook post on Thursday that they lack the legal authority to finance the treatment and hospitalization of DepEd personnel found to be infected with COVID-19. She said they are only allowed to pay for supplies needed to implement the minimum health standards in workplaces and schools.

However, like any other government employee, DepEd personnel are covered by PhilHealth in case they are admitted to hospitals.

DepEd has partnered with the Department of Health and local governments in referring its employees in need of care and monitoring due to coronavirus-related reasons, Sevilla added.

Despite a law allowing them to recommend to adjust the school calendar during times of emergency and calamity, DepEd said they will stick to the August 24 school year opening date.

Lessons under the new normal in education will be delivered through the digital platforms, radio and television broadcasts and printed self-learning modules.

But Robredo said some teachers raised concerns on the said mode of learning due to lack of “clear operational objectives.”

She added that teachers are uncertain as to who will shoulder the expenses of printing, reproducing and distributing the learning materials. She stressed the need to fill the gaps in module reproduction and delivery since the school year opening is less than two weeks away.

Other recommendations

Issues on internet access have to be fully addressed by devoting funds to set up internet hubs in schools and communities, the top-ranking government official remarked.

Robredo also asked DepEd to ease the requirements for private schools for distance education, which includes setting up a 24-hour technical support team. She said she finds this “burdensome” at a time of a big adjustment for basic educational institutions, which are already facing dwindling enrollment.

DepEd’s data as of Tuesday shows that 2.75 million children who used to attend private basic educational institutions have not enrolled for the next school year.