NO ONE X-cluED! The Department of Education Has a Plan to Continue Learning Amid COVID-19. The Youth Are Making Sure It Gets Implemented.

By: Francis Isaac

Dirk Tamayo was doing well in his studies prior to the pandemic. Enrolled in a private school in Pangasinan, he was at the top of his class, but was also looking forward to the end of the term like any grade four pupil.

“I was excited to attend our Recognition Ceremony,” Dirk remembered. “And I was hoping my mom would also allow me to attend our school's three-day summer camp after that.”

But anticipation gave way to disappointment when classes were suspended in early 2020 due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases.

“I was really scared at that time,” Dirk admitted. “I thought I would never see my classmates again.”

He was mistaken. He was eventually reunited with his friends...but only after two years of nearly continuous lockdowns.

Learning Continuity during Lockdown

The suspension of classes was announced by President Rodrigo Duterte on the night of March 9. Speaking in what would become his weekly late night briefings, the Chief Executive said that the measure was intended “to avoid losses, especially lives.” He further explained that “(it would) somehow reduce the number of the victims if we keep our children sequestered at home and study there.”

Initially covering Metro Manila, the suspension of classes was supposed to last for five days, from March 10 until March 14. Schools however, remained closed by the following week, after Malacañang placed the National Capital Region under lockdown on March 15, which was extended to the whole of Luzon two days later. By the following month, the entire archipelago was practically under community quarantine, as local officials began issuing their own restriction orders.

These disruptions have been particularly difficult for the country’s 27 million students who, according to UNICEF, have missed out on the “mental health, psychosocial support, and health and nutrition services offered by schools.” Unsurprisingly, about 4.4 million learners dropped out of school in late 2020, according to a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations.

To address these challenges, the Department of Education (DepEd) came up a package of policy interventions called the Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP). Developed through a series of consultations with different stakeholders, the Plan aims to “find ways for learning to continue” while “ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of all learners, teachers, and personnel of the Department.”

Department Order No. 12, Series of 2020, further describes the BE-LCP as an “emergency measure” designed to assist learners, teachers and DepEd personnel adjust to the realities of COVID-19. It did so by reducing the learning competencies of the K-12 curriculum by 60 percent, leaving only what the Department describes as the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs).

The Plan also identified distance learning as the main modality for delivering education services. Under this setup, learning still takes place even though teachers and students are geographically remote from each other. But with only 48 percent of public schools connected to the internet, the Department has largely relied on the use of self-learning modules (SLMs) which are distributed and later collected from students, as well as television and radio-based instruction.

In its original plan, DepEd scheduled the opening of School Year 2020-2021 on August 24. Classes, however, did not begin until two months later on October 5, after Duterte insisted on a “no vaccine, no classes” policy.

‘Youth-Led’ Response

According to the Department, the BE-LCP is “not a perfect plan,” and that “operational complications” had to be expected along the way. With this admission, DepEd has sought support from education stakeholders, emphasizing the need for “strengthened coordination and cooperation at national and local levels.”

This prompted a new civil society initiative called Multiply-Ed (X-Ed), which aims to monitor the implementation of the Learning Continuity Plan of the Department of Education. A project of the Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN) and Government Watch (G-Watch), X-Ed utilizes a youth-led, multi-level and multi-sectoral approach in its monitoring work.

Formed in 2005, CYAN is a youth-led and youth-serving NGO that is attempting to change the political culture and landscape of youth participation and involvement. G-Watch, on the other hand, is an independent action-research organization that specializes in the field of transparency, participation and accountability (TPA).

The project is being implemented in five key areas covering Metro Manila, Bicol, Cebu, Palawan and Mindanao.

X-Ed is a ‘youth-led’ response to ensuring learning continuity. G-Watch defines 'youth-led’ in its TPA Now! paper entitled ‘The Kids are Alright: 'Youth-Led' Initiatives on COVID-19’:

“…the initiative is youth-led if “the youth plays a central part in the said effort, if their ideas are heard, and if it has a youth perspective.” It means that the initiative must be thought of, done by, and benefiting the youth themselves (“isip, gawa at salita ng kabataan para sa kabataan”).

Youth-led initiatives are characterized by youthfulness: enthusiastic, hopeful, resilient or able to persevere, devoted and fresh. Youth-led initiatives and efforts are done to achieve three objectives: (1) youth development; (2) nation-building; and (3) the creation of a far better future.”

Special Monitoring  

X-Ed undertook its first major activity in November to December 2021, when it conducted a special monitoring of DepEd’s pilot face-to-face classes. This was a response to the Department’s earlier statement on October 6 that the initial run of face-to-face classes will be from November 15, 2021 until January 31 of the following year.

The monitoring was held in 16 out of the 100 public schools that were part of in the pilot. These included school three schools in Zambales, another three in Albay, four schools in Cebu, three from Surigao del Norte, two in Metro Manila, and a lone school from Aklan.

One of the volunteers who joined the monitoring was Neil Joseph Iyog who, at that time, was a graduating student at Cebu Normal University. Joining a group of monitors, Neil took a four-hour van ride to the town of Malabuyoc, 134 kilometers south of Cebu City. From the población, the group again drove for another hour, crossing a river and two mountains, before arriving at Mahanlud Elementary School.

“It was an eye-opener for me,” Neil said. “I really saw the condition of the school and the implementation of face-to-face classes.”

In Mahanlud, only seven students were allowed inside a classroom. But Neil believes that this was not enough to maintain proper social distancing, since the rooms were small, cramped and in need of repair. He also found out that the school’s teachers still had not received their hazard pay, even though the pilot face-to-face had already started.

But Neil’s biggest question was why Mahanlud was included in the first place.

“The school is in a mountainous area with a very small student population,” he recalled. “If DepEd wanted to know if we are now ready for face-to-face classes, then they should have selected a school near the town center.”  

In its report, X-Ed stated the schools covered by their special monitoring were “generally compliant to the standards set by DepEd. However, the document also emphasized that “all schools had incidences of non-compliance.” To address these flaws, X-Ed has asked the   Department of Education to “tighten (their) guidelines and nuance the standards for face-to-face classes.”

X-Ed Briefing Orientation Seminars

Shortly after submitting its monitoring findings to DepEd, Multiply-Ed was formally endorsed by Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio, who heads the Office for Curriculum and Instruction. In a memorandum dated March 1, 2022, Usec. San Antonio even instructed all regional directors to “support and assist the X-Ed team” in its effort to “improve transparency, participation and, accountability in all various levels of education governance.”

As the memo was being circulated through the DepEd bureaucracy, Multiply-Ed was busy holding partnership meetings in Cebu, Bicol, Mindanao and Metro Manila. It has also formed monitoring teams in these areas, while an initial standards mapping study was done in Palawan.

To form its corps of monitors or school accountability teams, X-Ed held a series of briefing orientation seminars (BOS) in four of the five areas where it is now operating.

The first BOS was held in Manila on April 23 and 24, attended by the students, teachers from Pasig and Quezon City. A month later, on May 14 and 15, student and civil society leaders gathered in Albay for the Bicol leg of the BOS. That same month, a third BOS was organized in Mindanao on May 21 and 22, which brought together teachers and students from Marawi and Cagayan de Oro. This was capped by the Cebu leg of the BOS which was held on May 28 and 29. Local DepEd officials were also invited to the BOS to explain how the BE-LCP was being implemented in their respective divisions.

To get the pulse of the audience and have an indicative feel of their political sentiments, each BOS began by asking the participants to “describe governance situation in the country today.”  

Unsurprisingly, the state of education was raised during the sessions, emphasizing the lack of school facilities. The participants from Cebu framed their answer in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Odette (international name Rai) which struck the province in December 2021. Though they were promised ayuda (assistance) by the national government, bureaucratic red tape led to severe delays, they claimed. One group of teachers even responded through song, changing the lyrics of the Black-Eyed Peas single Where is the Love? to “where is the fund?”

Because of the ongoing pandemic, the government’s to COVID-19 also became one of the hot-button topics, with both teachers and students lamenting over the slow efforts of the authorities and the difficulty of accessing of health services. The government was also criticized for the low funding that the health sector is receiving, prompting one participant from Cebu to ask, “Is our government focusing on the things that really matter?”

Participants also commented on the economy, citing unemployment and the government’s slow response to increasing fuel prices. One group from Mindanao raised the issue of extra-judicial killings and the ‘war on drugs’ and asked why “only smalltime drug-users are being targeted” and why victims were not given any fair trial. Another participant also cited the recent elections, saying that she has not heard from the President-elect on what he plans to do on his First 100 Days.

But in all the four areas, the dominance of political dynasties was identified as one of the major problems of Philippine governance. To maintain their power, political dynasties engage in vote buying. And once their members are elected to office, they engage in corruption to accumulate resources, dispense rent and gain greater power.

Because this is how they conduct politics, political dynasties undermine transparency and do all means so that they will not be held accountable. And by establishing patronage linkages, political dynasties are able to gain influence over voters. As one participant from Bicol pointed out, “Parang tayo pa ‘yung may utang na loob sa mga pulitiko” (Politicians give the impression that we owe them our debt of gratitude).

In addition, participants also raised the issue of disinformation and the significant role it had played in the 2022 elections.

'Multiplying Accountability'

The collective and innovative analysis of the national situationer was immediately by followed Joy Aceron’s presentation on ‘Accountability Basics,’ which she often began by addressing the issue of disinformation. As her opening spiel, she would remind the audience that disinformation benefits those in power, since its obscures the extent and degree of their accountability. To address this, Aceron asserts that need for citizens to have the right data to fight disinformation and hold officials to account.

Sa panahon ng disinformation, mahalaga na may sariling hawak-hawak na datos ang mga komunidad,” she often said. “Kaya ang laban natin sa disinformation ay laban para sa pananagutan” (In the age of disinformation, communities must possess the right data. Therefore, the fight against disinformation is the fight for accountability).

Defining accountability as “both a process and an outcome where those in power are made to answer for their decisions, actions and inaction,” Aceron said that it is the bedrock of any democratic system.

Malaking kakulangan sa ating demokrasya ang accountability. At ‘yan ang dahilan kung bakit ang dami pa rin nating problema sa paggugubyerno,” she once told the participants in Bicol. (Accountability is the main element that is lacking in our democracy. And that is the reason why we still have so many problems in governance).

Aceron also emphasized that power and accountability are “two sides of the same coin,” adding that, “in a democratic system, the exercise of power always has a corresponding accountability.”

She further noted that, “Walang kapangyarihan sa demokrasya na hindi puwedeng singilin, because a public office is a public trust” (There is no power in a democracy that cannot be held to account, because a public office is a public trust).

Accountability also has practical importance, according to Aceron, because it “makes government more responsive and effective.”

Apart from ‘Accountability Basics,’ the BOS also discussed the profile of Multiply-Ed and the monitoring tools that was developed by the project. DepEd officials were also invited to orient the participants on the BE-LCP. They included Jennifer Vivas of DepEd-NCR, Lorebina Carrasco of DepEd-Cagayan de Oro and Alice Ganar of DepEd Cebu City.

By engaging the Department of Education, X-Ed becomes a good example of constructive accountability, which Aceron defines as “the engagement of government, civil society and even the private sector to jointly undertake accountability processes to achieve a shared goal.” Such accountability processes, she adds, “mainly take the form of joint monitoring initiative to improve the effectiveness of services or programs the stakeholders view as critical through mutually-agreeable and mutually-reinforcing processes that includes independent civil society oversight.”

From the BOS, around 40 school accountability teams have already been formed, which will engage various levels of governance—at the level of the school, the division, at the regional level, and even at the national level.

Such a multi-level framework of scaling accountability is largely informed by the strategy devised by American political scientist Jonathan Fox, which “combines depth and breadth” through the “vertical integration of citizen monitoring and advocacy.”

Unlike tactical accountability initiatives that addresses only the symptoms through a single, locally bounded and usually tool-based action, vertical integration attempts to address the causes of accountability gaps by employing variety of actions and different levels of decision-making which necessitates broad organizing and alliance and network-building.  Vertical integration, in other words, entails a movement-approach to accountability, which mobilizes ordinary citizens, using a variety of tactics to bolster government responsiveness.


Back in Dirk’s home, a shiny gold medal is prominently displayed in his room.

“I got that during my graduation,” he says proudly. “And I’m glad that most of my elementary friends will be joining me in high school.”

He then fell silent and stated at his medal, deep in thought.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, I guess” he blurted out, breaking his trance. “I was with my family, and I had good internet. I wish everyone was like that. I hope nobody gets excluded.”


*Photos are from Multiply-Ed