Home Special Reports Schools team up with couriers, banks to help students deal with pandemic

Schools team up with couriers, banks to help students deal with pandemic

By Angelica Y. Yang, Reporter

SCHOOLS in the Philippines have entered tie-ups with logistics service providers and banks to help students better deal with the impact of the global health emergency.

Last year, Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) resorted to correspondence learning, allowing students from far-flung areas to receive hard copies or flash drives of course material from the school.

“PUP is home to students belonging to families that are economically-challenged. So many of our students do not have regular access to the internet…They do not have internet connections in their respective homes, so these students were given the opportunity to continue their studies through correspondence mode,” the university’s Executive Vice President Alberto C. Guillo said.

The school entered into an agreement with logistics firm Air21, which provided its services for free. The delivery of learning materials took up to a week for students residing in remote areas.

“We…delivered (the instructional materials) to them at their doorstep…so they can continue with their studies. We (found an) arrangement (that was) least-cost, if not zero-cost, on the part of our students,” Mr. Guillo said.

After the government imposed a hard lockdown towards the end of the first quarter last year, schools had to improvise in shifting to online learning platforms, and connectivity was foremost in the minds of many academics.

Spotty internet remained an issue in the country and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, according to University of the Philippines (UP) Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Alyssa M. Peleo Alampay.

The state university also decided to mail flash drives and hard copy of course materials to students with connectivity problems.

“We tried to benchmark with other higher education institutions in the ASEAN, (such as those in) Malaysia and Indonesia, and we saw that everybody was really going through more or less the same problems of connectivity and access,” she said.

“(We realized that) getting the actual, physical paper copy to the students is something we can do, so there was a very well-organized structure of sending USBs or hard copies of the material for all of the courses before the semester started,” she added.

Ms. Alampay said UP also helped out with the distribution of devices to school personnel and qualified students during the pandemic.

The global health emergency brought about the need for flexible payment schemes, which private school iACADEMY recognized when it decided to team up with financial institutions that offered such options to students.

“Due to financial challenges brought by the pandemic, a significant number of students put their studies on pause. To address this constraint, we partnered with financial institutions such as Metrobank and LANDBANK to ease payments and extend flexible options to our students,” iACADEMY said through its corporate communications department.

Metrobank offered students zero-interest installment plans while LANDBANK supported eligible applicants via its I-Study Lending Program, which charges interest rates of 5% a year.

iACADEMY added that it also partnered with companies that offered work-from-home arrangements to students taking up animation, design, and game development.

“This initiative helped our students not only to earn but also apply the skills they acquired in their courses. Through this, students were also given first-hand experience before they even graduate (by) working for these companies,” it said.

Former Education Secretary Armin A. Luistro, who served under the late President Benigno S.C. Aquino III, said that even those who were “most prepared” to fully shift to online learning had to undergo major adjustments.

“Teachers were not given enough time to shift. The pandemic happened at the tail end of the school year, so some schools were in their last quarter or just preparing for their final exams. The other difficulty is, in the beginning of the pandemic and even up to now, (it is) almost impossible to make any real projections or plans… when you cannot foresee when exactly the lockdowns will end,” he said.

Online learning has opened up avenues to access more information and gave teachers more opportunities to better engage students, but this was deemed only effective for those who could afford internet access and devices, according to Mr. Luistro.

During the pandemic, not all students and teachers had such access, and Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Secretary-General Raymond D. Basilio believes that this widened the gap between rich and poor.

“Our teachers were not provided the needed laptop computers and provision for internet load allowance. For our learners, not all were provided with devices and a means to save. It was left to (the family’s resources),” he said, referring to the experiences of ACT members.

As of May, the group had up to 220,000 members.

Mr. Basilio said online learning entailed additional expenses, which families struggling from the impact of the pandemic had to contend with.

“What will you prioritize? Buying rice or buying (mobile data) load for your child?” Mr. Basilio said.

Before the onset of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the world was already experiencing a learning crisis, but then 258 million children and youth of grade school and high school age were estimated to have dropped out, according to a World Bank Group report released in May 2020.

This time, the world is experiencing the “twin shocks” of school closures and a severe economic downturn which could have imposed long-term costs on education and development, against which governments must quickly implement countermeasures, according to the study findings.

Online learning may have hurdles, but it holds “a lot of promise” in democratizing and customizing education, according to Philippine Business for Education Executive Director Love B. Basillote.

“Not all learners are made the same way, and I think if done right and done well with adequate support, it can actually have the potential to address the learning crisis in the Philippines, making sure that our students are able to learn the competencies they need to lead productive lives,” she said.

She said the private sector can play a key role by working with the education authorities while holding them accountable for the system’s performance. She suggested that industry also look into providing discounts for students, participating in the delivery of devices for e-learning, and implementing office policies that provide “leeway” or support to parents.

According to Department of Education (DepEd) data released in May, the General Appropriations Act of 2021 earmarked P594.11 billion for the education sector, up 7.44% from a year earlier. This year’s allocation represents around 13% of the national budget.

Mr. Luistro, the former Education Secretary, said the government must channel more funds into education, citing recommendations made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which considers healthy education-spending levels to be about 15% to 20% of public expenditure.

“If you look at the Philippine economy, we are also lagging, so if the economy is not opening up…that means even if you do 20% of the national budget, that may be even less than the (education) budget of previous years, so that’s a cause for worry,” Mr. Luistro said. 

“It’s about the whole economy and you’re talking of parents who may have lost their jobs…Even if schools have all the gadgets (but) if students are hungry, learning will not happen so these are all interconnected, and the economy is critical in terms of playing catch-up with the learning crisis that has been there even before the pandemic,” he added.

The two public universities that spoke to BusinessWorld for this article are spending more on learning management systems (LMS) to meet the requirements of online learning, compared to their expenses pre-pandemic.

UP’s Ms. Alampay noted that the school has invested more in Zoom video conferencing platform subscriptions and library plans. The expenses were offset, however, by the absence of the usual daily operating costs like power and water consumption.

“(The) funds were actually put into these subscriptions which we hope we can sustain even after the pandemic, even after all this remote learning is done because, really, we want to go more into that hybrid type of delivery of our courses,” she said.

PUP’s Mr. Guillo said the school spent more on LMS subscriptions, as well as health-related items for its community members.

Data obtained by BusinessWorld indicate that PUP spent P21.26 million on office supplies, internet expenses, and video conferencing application subscriptions; and P2.90 million on items related to health and safety such as swab tests, personal protective equipment and disinfection supplies from 2020 to 2021.

Mr. Guillo said PUP will be investing more time in printing all of its instructional material for those in correspondence learning, adding that students in the program will continue to receive course packs through hard copy or flash drives in the coming semesters.

“We have received feedback that students who receive these instructional materials post on social media (to) say they are happy… We’re glad to know about it, even if it’s just a simple post,” he said.