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Internet connectivity: Biggest challenge to students, teachers

account_balanceMetro News account_circleJake Cruz chat_bubble_outline0 Comments

Several months since the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, the government deemed it fit for cities and other municipalities to open under a looser form of quarantine. Businesses are allowed to operate at limited capacity but are coupled with stringent sanitary protocols. This serves to regain economic growth in the new normal.

But what about schools, which were also closed due to the pandemic? What about academic growth?

According to UNESCO, more than 28.5 million learners (over 22 million of which from public schools) were affected by school closures.

In June following GCQ declaration, school enrolment was pushed, with classes expected to begin on August 24. But enrollments fell short by month’s end as over 13 million did not show intent. And despite enrolment extension to July 15, over 6 million are still in the wings for better timing.

Salustiano Jimenez, Regional Director of DepEd Region 7, discusses the department's Learning Continuity Plan.
Photo from Liveable Cities / Liveable Cities Challenge PH Facebook

Whether it’s worry over of contracting the illness or over holding classes online, sustainable class resumption remains uncertain, risking students to fall behind months of learning or even miss an entire year’s worth of academic gains—unless we take a more progressive and proactive approach in the digital direction.

Challenges and considerations

In the recently concluded “Digital Transformation in a Post-GCQ World,” one of the webinar sessions spearheaded by Liveable Cities Challenge PH and Globe Telecom, education experts zeroed in on “Distance Learning Under Covid,” as well as weighed in on the challenges they face.

According to Salustiano Jimenez, Regional Director of DepEd Region 7, and Dr. Reynato Arimbuyutan, president of the College for Research and Technology-Cabanatuan, there are several considerations that hamper distance learning in the new normal, including:

  • Deployment of distance learning combined with in-person learning
  • Limited learning access for schools and the dilemma of tech use in creating a resilient educational environment for continued learning
  • Insufficient learning gadgets and equipment for both students and learners
  • Lack of e-learning facilities with compliance to health protocols
  • Solid curriculum designed for distance learning as well as sufficient training for teachers
  • Lack of strong and reliable infrastructure that will help facilitate this new mode of learning

Collaboration as solution

Vince Tempongco, vice president for Site Acquisition and Management at Globe Telecom, highlights the lack of cell sites in the country.
Photo from Liveable Cities / Liveable Cities Challenge PH Facebook

Vince Tempongco, vice president for Site Acquisition and Management at Globe Telecom, discussed the benefits of network expansion. He especially emphasized the lack of cell sites in the country, resulting in a low cell site density.

To date, there are about 18,000 cell sites across all telcos in the country. The ratio of one user to a cell site is at 4,258—a stark difference from Indonesia with just 711 users per cell site, China with 408, or India with 1,002, considering their populations.

Tempongco explained that for truly reliable connectivity, cell sites must provide enhanced signals and wider networks in both urban and rural towns so that all homes get improved services. The more cell sites there are, the faster the delivery.

Jimenez and Arimbuyutan also underscored the critical role LGUs play into the shift from traditional to online, especially in achieving what Globe Education Segment Head Mark Payumo Abalos calls “digital equity” or democratizing access to online tools and sufficient connectivity for all learners regardless of economic status.

With their help, the right connectivity infrastructure with a wide area network will make alternative learning modalities possible by creating a conducive online learning environment.

Together with the immediate and implementation of the Department of Education’s Learning Continuity Plan, solutions can be made hand-in-hand.

Catalyst for digital transformation

Companies like Globe can be a catalyst in a time where communities need capacity and coverage especially in helping facilitate education from home.

“We need the help and support of the government, especially the local government units so that we can expand our capacity by building more cell sites and towers in the next few months,” said Gil Genio, chief technology and information officer and chief strategy officer for Globe, in a separate statement.

Mark Payumo Abalos, segment head for Education at Globe, talks about the importance of digital equity.
Photo from Liveable Cities / Liveable Cities Challenge PH Facebook

“The government and the telcos need to collaborate now, more than ever, to lay down and build the necessary infrastructures to deliver the needed connectivity as more Filipinos adapt to the new normal,” Genio said.   

Online access has more than ever become an important commodity, and it is up to the government and telcos like Globe to step up to the plate and take strides in fast-tracking the country’s pivot to digital transformation. 


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