Palace, ABS-CBN partnership to solve learning crisis urged

LRay Villafuerte
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte

DEPUTY Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte on Saturday proposed an “exceptional partnership” between Malacañang and ABS-CBN Corp. that would enable the government to harness the broadcast network’s nationwide facilities—for a reasonable fee, of course—for the “blended” education system.

Villafuerte suggested  such a partnership between the Duterte-administration and the Lopez-owned network with  the rollout this coming school year to deal with the learning crisis spawned by the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.

He said this is in line with his proposal under House Resolution (HR) No. 1044 for the temporary use by bovernment of ABS-CBN's former television and radio frequencies to expand alternative distance learning modes for students, and thus help mitigate the pernicious impact of Covid-19 on Philippine education.

The Camarines Sur representative said it would depend on the Lopezes whether they would agree to such a proposed partnership, and that there is no intention at all in HR No. 1044 for the state to sequester the network’s TV and radio facilities for the planned distance learning modalities of state educators.

“In keeping with the network’s slogan—‘In the service of the Filipino’—ABS-CBN could engage the Duterte administration in an exceptional partnership by letting the government temporarily use its facilities, for a reasonable fee of course, for the distance learning component of what (Department of Education or DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones has called the ‘blended’ learning  system this coming schoolyear,” Villafuerte said.

“This is an exemplary way for ABS-CBN to live up to its slogan of serving the Filipino by way of helping flesh out remote learning modalities at this extremely challenging season of the pandemic when face-to-face teaching and studying are anathema to the requisite social or physical distancing to avoid Covid-19 infection,” he added. And by agreeing to lend its TV and radio facilities for distance learning for a hoped-for reasonable fee, Villafuerte said “the network could continue operating for the duration of the ‘blended’ learning approach—and thereby allow it to keep a good number of its employees on the payroll.”

In case ABS-CBN opts, however, to stay out of such a proposed partnership, Villafuerte said the government should work out such an arrangement with private companies that have available facilities or are willing to invest in such equipment for use for distance education—and use the TV and radio frequencies formerly assigned to ABS-CBN.

Malacañang has welcomed Villafuerte’s proposed use of ABS-CBN’s idle frequencies for distance learning amid the pandemic, but Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said such a move would have to be decided upon by the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). “It’s a good idea but the decision must be made by Secretary Briones and (CHED) Chairman (Prospero) De Vera,” Roque said in an online briefing.

In filing HR 1044, Villafuerte said  that "exhausting all possible delivery modes such as the use of untapped TV and radio frequencies as those vacated by ABS-CBN is important in keeping students engaged" amid the learning crisis sweeping across the globe as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

"The unused frequencies may also be used for information on Covid-19 prevention and control, risk reduction and preparedness," he said. Villafuerte noted that the Philippines is among the countries experiencing a "learning crisis" brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Inequality and inaccessibility of opportunities such as those pertaining to internet connectivity and possession of a laptop pose variety of challenges for teachers and learners," he noted.  Thus, "the reduction in losses in learning require creativity in remote learning strategies," such as tapping radio and TV as alternative media for teaching purposes.

He pointed out that the DepEd is currently working to transition the modality of teaching from the conventional “face-to-face” learning to blended learning, which is a combination of online distance learning and in-person delivery of learning materials to the homes of the learners to ensure that students are able to continue their education even amid the pandemic.

Villafuerte said the former frequencies used by ABS-CBN will be especially useful in areas not yet reached by digital infrastructure, such as some of the communities in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARRM).

In a presentation, Villafuerte has pointed out that the use of TV and radio are crucial to alternative or remote learning, given the challenges facing online learning, such as unstable internet connection, lack of digital infrastructure and lack of access to smart phones, tablets and/or computers.

Villafuerte said the use of TV and radio are crucial to the efficacy of distance or alternative learning, given that the National ICT (information and communications technology) Household Survey has shown that 87.8% of barangays do not have free WiFi in their communities. National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillion  was reported in the media as saying that the National ICT survey bared that 70.2% of barangays do not have fiber optic cables yet in their communities, with BARMM having the highest percentage at 99.1%, followed by Northern Luzon at 90.5% and MIMAROPA (Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro,Marinduque, Romblon and Palawan), 90.4%.

Villafuerte said in his presentation that among the countries that have tapped TV and/or radio for remote learning are Argentina, Austria, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia and South Korea.