imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

The paper dilemma

What is paper, fellas, and why did I choose it as my topic today?

Paper is a dried, compressed mat of plant fibers—nothing more, nothing less. It’s a bit like clothing you can write on. Clothes are made by weaving together yarns such as cotton and wool spun from natural fibers. Paper is more like the fabric we call felt, made without the weaving stage by pressing together cellulose fibers extracted from plants and trees so they knit and fuse to form a strong, solid, but still very flexible mat.

Historical evidence indicates that the Chinese were the first society to develop a method to make pulp. Archaeologists indicate that the most ancient pieces of paper ever collected were from China from the 2nd century BCE.

My readings say that one of the people credited with the development of papermaking in China was Cai Lun, a eunuch in the court of the Han Dynasty. Although the process of making paper traces its roots to the Chinese, it was refined by Islamic societies who came up with machines to make vast amounts of paper. Today, China and the United States are the largest pulp and paper producers in the world.

How is paper made?

Most paper pulp is made from trees (mainly fast-growing, evergreen conifers), though it can also be made from bamboo, cotton, hemp, jute, and a wide range of other plant materials. Smooth papers used for magazines or packaging often have materials such as china clay added so they print with a more colorful, glossy finish.

Here’s the basic idea: you take a plant, bash it about to release the fibers, and mix it with water to get a soggy suspension of fibers called pulp (or stock). Then spread the pulp out on a wire mesh so the fibers knit and bond together, squeeze the water away, dry out your pulp, and what you’ve got is paper!

Paper is really easy to make by hand but people use so much of it that most is now made by giant machines. Whichever method is used, there are essentially two stages: getting the pulp ready and then forming it and drying it into finished sheets or rolls.

Recycled paper (green line) has now overtaken woodpulp (brown line) as the main source of raw materials. Even so, very large amounts of wood are still consumed to make paper. Based on on statistics from Key Statistics: European Pulp and Paper Industry 2018 and the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI), June 2019, roughly 154 million cubic meters of wood are used by the European paper industry each year (28 percent hardwood and 72 percent softwood), but only about 40 million cubic meters of that (less than a third) finds its way into papermills as usable pulp.

Why do I write today about paper, fellas?

It’s because we are consuming it more than usual nowadays that it has become very alarming. Soon our mountains and hills will become barren.

Even our government officials admit we are using it more than we grow trees.

To give you an idea, Senator Ralph Recto, an economist, estimated that 93.6 billion pages of learning modules for millions of public school students will be needed just for one full academic year.

The Department of Education (DepEd) said about P40 billion is needed per school year to be able to print self-learning modules as education sector shifts to its new normal.

Education Undersecretary Annalyn Sevilla said assuming that the pandemic will continue, they will be needing P20 billion for the first two quarters of the upcoming school year, and P40 billion for its last two quarters and the first two quarters of school year 2021-2022.

Of the P605.74 billion budget of the DepEd, P15 billion was allotted for this purpose, with another P5 billion under unprogrammed funds.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones describes the modular type of learning as a non-sustainable and expensive mode of learning in this time of new normal. She said that aside from being non-sustainable, modular type of learning is also destructive to the environment, as bond papers are made from trees.

“This is also the most expensive way to transmit learning because we have 25 million learners. It is not sustainable. If we continue with this method of printed modules, then our forests might be gone, our trees as well, because these would be made into paper,” she said.

Aside from this, the secretary was also alarmed of the destructions made through natural calamities.

“Over a billion pesos ang na-destroy and if you replace all those materials, it will cost us again and we’ll have to cut more trees and then we will be inviting more floods, creating more deserts,” Briones said.

Although the country is now flooded with midrange smartphones, the big challenge when we shift from printed Self-Learning Materials (SLMs) to digital transfer of modules or online classes is the absence of strong online signal.

“We do not have signal here in the highlands, so when we have to download lesson materials or upload reports, we have to go to Candon City where there is signal,” says a teacher from the mountain town of Cervantes, Ilocos Sur.

Signal is so weak in the provinces, particularly in the non-poblacion areas, that teacher-learner communication is not feasible or even possible.

So, what scenarios can we form to make things right, fellas?

We need the vaccines to contain the virus so we can go back to F2F (Face-to-Face) learning as soon as possible. We need the F2F for a more quality education and values formation. We also need a strong internet signal for Google class or Zoom or other online platforms. In this case, we need a gadget and of course load for every learner. We need ample training for teachers in conducting and handling online classes.

We need a drastic change in the management of these network companies so they are more prone to serving the people and giving their money’s worth whenever they subscribe.

We need a lot of things, fellas.

In the meantime, we need to bear the burden of this pandemic.

What a price for a Third World country!