Limited Connectivity and Other Obstacles: Two Years of School in Rural Philippines

Photo Essay

Almost two years since the Philippines implemented lockdown measures to curb COVID-19 infections, some schools in the country have resumed face-to-face classes. In the capital Manila, however, physical classes in school due to recommence in January was suspended because of surging cases in late 2021. Most are the Omicron variant, which now brings total cases to over three million and more than 50,000 deaths.   

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Teaser Image Caption
A household in Talustusan, Biliran province, Eastern Visayas, the Philippines, they provide a Wi-Fi vending machine and put up bamboo tables and bench where their clients can sit properly.

Since the outbreak in 2020, government education agencies in the country implemented alternative learning modes to cope with the situation. The implementation was far from easy and exacerbated gaps in the country’s access to education. Teachers and parents have to deal with internet connectivity issues coupled with socioeconomic vulnerabilities.

In Talustusan, a community of over 500 families in the province of Biliran in Eastern Visayas region, teachers, students and parents are dealing with issues ranging from internet connectivity, power outages, climate crisis, and financial capacity. Take-home modules containing exercises pose a greater challenge for parents who have never finished grade school. Nevertheless, communities have managed to survive through two academic years but teachers and parents are worried whether this mode of teaching has actually helped their children’s education.

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📷 Every Monday, parents and pupils of Talustusan Elementary School (TES) pick up their weekly module. They are also required to submit completed modules from the past week.

 

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📷 Carmencita Ramos (front right), a mother of two, delivering completed modules and picking up new ones for the week. She says this modular education is taking up much of her time instead of focusing on household chores.
 
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📷 A first grader returning her completed modules in the designated box outside the classroom
     

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📷 TES teachers preparing modules for the following week. While the Philippines Department of Education (DepED) provided a budget for printing expenses, teachers around the country end up spending money on ink, bond paper, and sometimes even buying their own laptops. Filipino teachers are among the lowest paid compared to their counterparts in the region.

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📷 Foot markings intended to maintain physical distancing within the premises. The school was turned into a quarantine facility during the height of the pandemic.
 
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📷 A makeshift learning center intended for limited face to face sessions for children with learning difficulties. The school only allows maximum of ten pupils per session.
   

 

 

 

   

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📷 What is usually a colorful classroom is now a temporary office filled with boxes of modules, while other classrooms are used as a quarantine facility at TES. Teachers here complain of some irresponsible occupants destroying chairs, tables and some of their instructional materials. In the disaster-prone Philippines, public school classrooms are usually turned into evacuation sites during typhoons and other natural calamities. The Department of Education has urged local governments to stop this practice.

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📷Since the pandemic, some residents have put up a Wi-Fi vending machine where anyone can activate an internet mobile connection. This has been an added source of income for those who have the money to purchase one. Students have been using this technology to attend online classes and research. Some are just for online mobile games and social media access.

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📷Maribel Sumaya, mother of four, says the new mode of learning puts additional stress on her. She has to look over four different modules every week. Every Monday, Maribel walks 30–40 minutes to get a new set of modules and submit completed assignments on behalf of her children. She is worried about teaching one of them to read. “It’s a skill only teachers can do,” she said.
 
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📷Arjohn Flores (left) and Angelo Alcalde (right) on their way to school to submit their completed assignments. Arjohn, who is in senior high school, needs to attend online classes from time to time. With limited connectivity in the community, he has to find spots with better reception. Sometimes he pays for prepaid internet through a Wi-Fi vending machine.
   

 

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📷 At the height of the pandemic, some communities in Biliran were under lockdown due to local transmission. It limited movements including going to local markets. Some residents put up their own mini wet market (locally known as talipapa) to address the needs of the community.

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📷 Despite limited resources, and connectivity issues, residents in Talustusan were able to find creative ways to live through the pandemic. Biliran province is now starting to roll out booster shots. Many are looking forward to resuming face-to-face classes and freer movement.

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Photo Essay - Limited Connectivity and Other Obstacles: 2 Years of School in Rural Philippines