Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is pushing for the acceleration of the Department of Education (DepEd)’s digital transformation as the education sector enters the “new normal” in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic. Gatchalian said among the online services that should be expedited now are enrollment, payments, grades submissions, and parent-teacher meetings.
Through Senate Bill No. 1565 or the Education in the New Normal Act, which calls for the creation of a Safe Schools Reopening Plan, Gatchalian is seeking to fast-track the provision of free public Wi-Fi as mandated under Republic Act No. 10929 or the “Free Internet Access in Public Places Act” to support distance learning, especially when school closures occur in time of emergencies.
The proposed measure also mandates DepEd to enhance its information and communications technology (ICT) capacity to streamline and integrate its workflow and processes. This would increase the efficiency of services through automation and digitization that promotes zero-contact policy and observes social distancing.
The bill also seeks the installation of electronic and online systems for seamless exchange of data and information between DepEd offices, learners and parents. Data centers, data repositories, encryption systems, basic messaging, electronic mail, and cyber-security facilities will be installed in the build-up of DepEd’s technology capacities. DepEd personnel will undergo training in rolling out this digital transformation.
DepEd will be mandated to collaborate with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), and its private sector partners to implement this digital transformation. DepEd undersecretary Jess Mateo had said that DepEd officials have now been meeting with telecommunications companies to be able to provide teachers with mobile and data subscriptions under a single account.
According to Gatchalian, investing in ICT is key to helping the country’s education system to “build back better” from the effects of Covid-19. He reiterated the urgency of closing the digital divide to ensure that no learners are left behind in terms of access to quality and innovative education.
DepEd records show that out of the 22 million public school learners nationwide, only 16.7 million are enrolled in schools with Internet connectivity. This represents only 48 percent or 22,645 of the country’s 47,013 public schools that have internet access.
“Nais nating paigtingin ang paggamit ng teknolohiya sa pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon habang pinapanatili ang kaligtasan ng bawat mag-aaral, guro, magulang, at kawani ng mga paaralan. Kailangang siguruhin natin na ang mga teknolohiyang ito ay abot-kamay ng bawat guro at mag-aaral upang masiguro nating wala sa kanila ang mapag-iiwanan,” said Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
Gatchalian also introduced provisions in the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Senate Bill No. 1564) or Bayanihan 2.0, which would make microloans available to schools and parents for the purchase of devices for blended learning.
He, however, clarified that other traditional modalities such as television, radio and printed materials are part of the coming school year’s medium of instructions, while some schools await their free Internet connection.