Senate review on free internet, distance learning laws sought

Cecille Suerte Felipe – The Filipino star

October 23, 2022 | 12:00 noon

MANILA, Philippines — As some schools continue to implement blended and distance learning, Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian is requesting a Senate investigation into the implementation of two laws designed to help ensure reliable Internet connectivity and continued learning during emergency situations.

Gatchalian, chair of the Senate Basic Education Committee, introduced Senate Resolution 59, which seeks to determine the effectiveness of Republic Act 10929 (Free Internet Access in Public Places Act) and RA 10650 (Open Distance Learning Act) in educational institutions and learning centers.

He said a Senate investigation is needed to assess the implementation of both laws and to identify and address implementation gaps, problems and challenges.

Lawmakers noted that the implementation of these laws remained an issue, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic led to the suspension of in-person classes and a shift to distance learning.

Gatchalian pointed out that the Free Internet Access in Public Places Act was enacted to provide free Internet access in public places nationwide. It also provides free wireless Internet access in public primary education institutions, centers for alternative learning systems, state universities and colleges and the institutions of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), among others.

Based on the Free Public WiFi Monitoring Dashboard as of January 29, only 945 public elementary schools, or about two percent of all public schools nationwide, have free public WiFi.

He said the Open Distance Learning Act, on the other hand, institutionalizes Open Distance Learning (ODL) to expand and further democratize access to quality higher education.

“The law mandates the use of distance learning as an adequate, efficient and effective system for providing quality higher and technical educational services in the country. To date, there are at least 10 reputable higher education institutions that offer distance learning,” Gatchalian said.

“While we have legislation that would have helped implement distance learning, we still have gaps that need to be filled to ensure continuity and quality education amid the crisis. We must address these challenges so that we can ensure that no student is deprived of an education during disasters and emergencies,” he added.