With the Ministry of Education’s official opening date for the 2021-2022 school year quickly approaching, students across the country are now probably preparing for the end of their summer vacation.
By mid-September, the days of late waking, lazy afternoons and frenzy of TV shows until midnight will be over. Instead, they will be replaced by the insistent ringing of alarm clocks, homework, essays, and exams. What joy.
However, in addition to preparing, students and parents will also prepare for the start of the school year. As face-to-face lessons are still prohibited, Filipino students will attend their lessons from their homes.
So instead of the usual notebooks, notepads, and rulers, many students this year will make sure their desktops or laptops are up to date, their headset mics are working, and their internet service is reliable enough. to support a group call. .
This year, millions of Filipino students will take online courses. And although this is the second consecutive school year of e-learning, the risks and challenges associated with this shift to e-learning persist.
In a statement from advocacy group Telecom Tower Watch, Orlando Oxales said, “The shock of the lockdowns has revealed just how gaps in connectivity, equipment, ICT skills of teachers, learners and even their parents weren’t ready for the rapid transition to e-learning. “
As Oxales pointed out, connectivity is one of the big challenges students and teachers now face in setting up distance learning. Suddenly, the mobile data signal, the availability of WiFi and the means to access these services have become prerequisites for going to school.
But where has this change left students who live in remote and unconnected areas? What about those who cannot afford to pay for these Internet services?
One solution has been to rely on partnerships with the private sector such as that between Globe Telecom and the Department of Education (DepED) in Cebu.
Through this collaboration, the telecommunications company will build 26 new cell sites specifically to support the government’s e-learning initiatives. The project will provide Internet connectivity to thousands of students and teachers in neighboring communities and will also extend free services to schools in the region.
While the private telecommunications sector continues to partner with various local government units to improve services and provide free internet access in partner communities, these still only result in pockets of improved connectivity.
Ultimately, adequate government funding for the national broadband program, the Free WiFi for All program, and the Ministry of ICT’s joint tower initiative are essential to expand internet access.
However, connectivity is not the only challenge facing online learners. Unfortunately, the Internet can be a dangerous place for young people.
Some of the risks they face online include cyberbullying, threats to data privacy, and exposure to disinformation. Without the right skills, these threats could have serious emotional and behavioral consequences. And because of COVID-19, the risk of exposure to these threats has increased as learners are online more than ever.
Take the risk of exposure to misinformation, for example. According to Hootsuite, in 2020, Filipinos were the top internet and social media users around the world. The report also found that Google, Facebook and YouTube were the most visited sites and that around 10% of the country’s social media audience are young people between the ages of 13 and 17.
With the time spent on the Internet and the growing number of online news sources, there is a good chance that these young people are increasingly exposed to disinformation and disinformation online. And without the right digital skills, such as information literacy, it can be difficult to distinguish between facts, opinions, or fake news.
Information Literacy – which includes both digital and media literacy – means having the ability to think critically to find, identify, assess, and effectively use the information you encounter online. Developing these digital skills is essential in today’s world and crucial in the fight against disinformation.
As expected, the education sector plays a critical role in developing these skills. By integrating digital and media literacy into the classroom, students can acquire the skills to understand the risks they face online and navigate safely in their increasingly digital environment. Teachers, of course, play a crucial role here as well, and they must receive appropriate training.
For this reason, the government should support the Digital Learners and Teachers project of DICT and DepED, the ICT Academy project under the Digital Workforce Initiative for the development of Filipino workers in information technology, and the educational portal of DICT implemented with Microsoft for online ICT training of public servants to enable career advancement and improve key public services.
According to the Telecom Tower Watch statement, “upgrading our digital infrastructure and services must go hand in hand with building capacity in terms of skill sets and enabling policies compatible with the innovative and competitive environment of the growing digital economy ”.
Indeed, as our society becomes more and more digital, access to digital opportunities must reach more Filipinos. But, at the same time, we also need to ensure that young Filipinos develop the necessary skills and knowledge that enables them to think critically, detect risks and push back those who seek to leverage their platform. .
Paco Pangalangan is the Executive Director of the Stratbase ADR Institute Think Tank.