I was stuck with my father in a phone call when I asked him for mobile load in order to have internet and pass my academic requirements.

He is residing in Quezon City for over several years now. He is a daily wage earner; meaning, he only gets paid for what he worked for the day.

He remained silent for quite some time after hearing my request— this reaction of his is understandable since saying yes or no would both incur consequences. If he says yes, he has no choice but to deduct it from his hard-earned salary for the day. If he chooses otherwise, then his daughter may fail to comply with her course requirements.

He probably would have said yes immediately if it was just another ordinary day— but it’s not.

We have been strictly confined in our house for the past few months because of the quarantine protocol brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. For most, it would simply mean suspension of work. For my dad, it means that he would be incapable of supporting our family.

I wonder, what will happen to underprivileged students if classes resume online? What will happen to us who do not have stable internet connection and required gadgets? How are we going to access online materials?

This will once again raise the debatable question of whether education is a right or a privilege.

Upon the declaration of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) designation to COVID-19 as a pandemic on March 11, universities throughout different countries have shut down the face-to-face setting. Most of them have shifted into online learning to continue the academic year due to the spike in the number of COVID-19 cases.

A student will not only need to be physically and intellectually prepared, but also be digitally competent to function in this so-called distance learning.

The initiatives of the universities to continue teaching online is indeed a good way of expanding learning avenues. Moreover, the utilization of technology is a great addition to the modern education system. It indicates another milestone where humans, yet again, defeated distance.

But to whom does online learning really cater to?

I strongly believe that distance learning in a Third World nation like the Philippines will not flourish because of the prevalent social disparity in the country. Those students who have the means to acquire the needed tools for online learning are the ones fortunate enough to continue their education, while the unfortunate ones have no choice but to be delayed or worst— drop out.

To what extent will education be a right to us and a privilege to some?

The gradual shifting to online learning caused glaring problems from the get-go. Apart from the fact that the current Philippine education system already has issues and loopholes even during regular face-to-face classroom interaction— what more if it transitions to the said kind of distance learning? Besides the lack of necessary instruments and accessibility issues to sustain online learning, this transition may dampen the mental and psychological capacity of students to undergo another new mode of learning.

The painful reality of online learning is that it highlights the clear borders between the social classes within an academic institution’s student body. It being a system that is naturally technology-dependent, it is inevitable that this would only favor the privileged. It would be a great challenge for the ordinary Filipino for what they have to deal with first is their everyday survival.

Whatever happens, this ongoing health crisis must not take away our right to education.

Lois Mauri Anne Liwanag contributed to this story.

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