guevara - The economics of remote learning

I wondered why Senator Win Gatchalian called for a breakfast meeting hastily.  It was a relief to find out that he only wanted to think aloud and share his fears about remote learning.  More than assessing the Return of Investment (ROI) from the P105 billion expenditures on the “Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LECP) of the DepEd, he was worried on the impact of remote learning on children.  He has valid reasons for his fears.  Some 300 world leaders wrote a letter to heads of G20 countries expressing their fear that the pandemic would produce a Lost Generation.  They urged governments to take immediate action.  The pandemic has forced one billion students in 160 countries into distance education with poor reeling from its greatest impact. 

Discussions on the production function of remote learning have been focused on “gadgets”.  There has been a mad scramble for laptops, tablets, and cell phones.  The inability of parents to provide their children with technology tools sounded like a death toll on their learning.   Teachers have allayed their fears by assuring them that students will be provided with hard copies of learning modules.  A mad scramble for risograph machines, photocopiers, bond papers and ink then followed.  Local governments spent millions for their procurement which depleted their supply in the market.  A shortage caused the sellers to impose a quota on the volume of paper and ink that LGUs can procure, and certainly took the opportunity to increase their prices.

But important inputs had been left out—these are the quality of learning modules, the preparedness of parents to serve as mentors, and an assessment of how children are coping with the exigencies. Today, let me focus on an important input—how are parents performing their roles as “teachers”?

We have been deeply impressed with how parents are trying their best.  Synergeia has conducted numerous on-line workshops with parents all over the country.  They have inspired us in many ways.OFW parents in Hong Kong, Saudi and Singapore joined our discussions and shared how they steal every moment from work to check on their children.  Fathers who are working as security guards spend every free time to mentor their kids.  Mothers who lost their jobs are multi-tasking—preparing cooked food, peddling their wares using push carts, accepting laundry, and serving as part-time household help.  And even if parents are dead-tired in the evening, they trade off dinner and taking a much needed respite to sit down with their children and review their day’s work.

But even if their spirit was willing, the flesh was weak.  Mayors from BARMM informed us that parents have asked for help.  They feel helpless in assuming the role of mentors. Twenty percent (20%) of our poor are headed by a parent who did not complete basic education and 34.4% of them only completed grade six.   One of our parents wrote to ask how to solve a math problem that requires factoring “polynomials with monomials.” 

As an innovative response to the demand of the market, Mayors in consultation with various stakeholders have organized “purok workshops” where tutorials and remedial lessons are given to children.  The “cluster workshops” are not held in schools but in homes, barangay halls, and temporary shelters where a small group of students meet with their teachers, volunteers, senior citizens, youth leaders, while observing physical distancing and health protocols.   They have also put up community radios so that teachers can have greater access to students.

A market that is free encourages innovations and productivity.   Mayor Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela City has introduced a cost-effective way of delivering lessons to students using facebook messenger.  He has converted 18 classrooms in their science high school into “mini studios” where teachers go “Valenzuela Live” and teach students who are organized into chat groups.  And the good news is that Mayor Rex is no monopolist, and has opened their learning system for free access by local governments.

Basic education is a quasi-public private- good and its delivery can be enhanced with greater openness to partnerships with the LGUs and the private sector, not only in financing, but in its total delivery.

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