imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

Virtual teaching-learning on bad internet connection (First of two parts)

We are bracing for hi-tech teaching, so DepEd officials say, fellas.

There may be some other choices but virtual teaching is coming nigh. It’s hi-tech methodology in a Jurassic internet country. It’s feeding the internet-less countrysides and hinterlands with hi-tech lessons like trying to tie the knot between two lovers torn by time: one in the distant future and one in the distant past.

Internet connection is so bad in almost 80% of the land that one teacher in distant, mountainous Quirino, Ilocos Sur, said he had to wake up early in the morning to go to Candon City, 61 kilometers away. His purpose? To download lesson materials and videos for his next week lessons. Online connection is so bad even in urban towns that one evening, a student researching for an online project, had to climb up the rooftop for internet connection. He was surprised to see his neighbors on their rooftops, too!

Juco Antonio Rivera, who teaches Purposive Communication to 1st year college students at the iAcademy, shares his experience from conducting his online classes right after school was suspended. He says that he used the materials that he has already prepared for his face-to-face discussions on Google Classroom and Google Meet.

“I was relying more on the chat setting of Google Meet. The school was expecting documentation of the class, and so I was thinking that the best way of documentation was to simply copy and paste the transcript. I would turn on my mic only to lecture while using share screen for my slide presentation. Otherwise, everything else was done via chat.”

He describes his students as “dealing with it the best that they could, given the circumstances. I mean, they appreciated the effort I was putting for them to learn in my class. I’m not sure if they were appreciative of online classes per se. You can only do so much online for a 3.5-hour class, especially at home where there are chores to do and meals to prepare and eat.”

Rivera noted that slow internet connection is probably the worst enemy of online classes.

“Being a teacher of communication, I cannot appreciate not seeing my students’ response to my lessons. I need to see them to know whether my teaching is effective.”

His opinion is that we are not ready for online roll-outs.

“We were not ready for K-12, and we are also not ready for online classes. At the moment, our educational system is still struggling to adjust to the change brought about by the K-12, and so to bring up online classes causes yet another major change to the educational system. It may take a while for such a new normal to actually be normal.”

Lately, President Rodrigo Duterte said he is doubtful that the Philippines is ready to implement online learning as an alternative to actual classroom classes. He also said that he will not permit face-to-face classes without a vaccine for COVID-19.

“We have to wait for the vaccine. Maghintay talaga tayo sa vaccine. Sabi ko sa inyo walang vaccine, walang eskwela,” he said.

A PDI reports said, however, that President Duterte noted that Education Secretary Leonor Briones is set to implement a set of alternative learning delivery including online learning.

However, he said that the country may not be ready for that yet, citing the lack of available resources to be provided to the millions of learners.

“The technology is good but I don’t know if we’re ready for that. Meaning to say, if we have enough of those na gamitin para sa whole of the Philippines. We’re talking of students, meron ba siya (Briones)? If she has, if we can afford we’ll buy it and she can proceed in her novel idea on how the children would continue to their education,” he said.

If the plan pushes through, our next problem is the country’s internet connection.

How good, or bad is it, fellas?

Senator Lito Lapid observes: “Talagang nakakadismaya ang internet service dito sa Pilipinas lalo na kung ikukumpara sa mga kalapit ng bansa na malayo na ang narating pagdating sa aspetong ito. Isa sa mga tinitignang dahilan ng napakabagal nating internet ay dahil sa kakulangan ng imprastruktura para mapabilis at mapalakas ang connectivity.”

Lapid pointed to the 2019 data compiled by Tower Xchange which showed that there are only at least 17, 850 cell sites in the Philippines, in comparison to the over 90,000 cell sites in Vietnam.

Isa itong bagay na dapat matalakay naming mga mambabatas para mahanapan ng solusyon dahil hindi lang naman ngayon kakailanganin ang mabilis na internet connection. Itinuturing na ito na sa mga pangunahing pangangailangan ng ating mga kababayang hanggang sa hinaharap,” he said.

Speedtest Global Index said that in terms of mobile internet speed, the Philippines ranks 103rd among 139 surveyed countries. The Akamai Technologies State of the Internet report contained information that, though the average internet speed has increased 20% year-on-year, the Philippines, at 5.5 Mbit/s, once again has the lowest average connection speed among surveyed Asia Pacific countries. The country’s average mobile internet download speed of 15.06 Megabits per second was far below the global average of 26.12 Mbps. This was slower than the 15.2 Mbps registered in Zimbabwe, which years ago experienced an economic meltdown under former strongman Robert Mugabe. 

Compared to other countries in Asia, how backward is our country when it comes to internet speed, fellas?

The Philippines’ mobile internet was also slower than war-torn Syria’s (19.48 Mbps). Norway has the fastest mobile internet with a speed (67.54 Mbps), followed by Canada, Qatar, the Netherlands, and South Korea. In terms of fixed line internet, the Philippines ranked 101st among 179 countries. The Philippines’ average speed of 19.51 Mbps was much slower than the global average of 57.91 Mbps. Bangladesh is slightly ahead of the Philippines at 100th place, while Laos is at ranked 84th. Singapore was the runaway winner in terms of fixed-line internet as it registered average speeds of 199.77 Mbps. The city-state is followed by Hong Kong, Monaco, Romania and South Korea. 

Studies also show that there is a significant disparity between the Philippines’s average speed and price, as compared to its neighbors.

For one, according to studies conducted by Ookla, an Internet metrics provider, the Philippines has the second-slowest average download speed among 22 countries in Asia. As of May, the country’s average download speed reached 3.64 Mbps, ranking 176th out of 202 nations around the world. It is eight times slower than the global average broadband download speed of 23.3 Mbps. Not surprisingly, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea topped the test in Asia. The Philippines has the slowest average broadband speed among the 10 Asean nations.

The Ookla report also showed that Filipinos pay more than their neighbors, with an average user spend of $18.19 per Mbps versus the global average of $5.21 per Mbps. In a separate report, cloud-services provider Akamai Technologies said that, while the Philippines might have improved its connection by a percentage point, its overall ranking in Asia still remains at No. 13 out of 15, or the third-worst connection in the region.

Filipinos, according to the first-quarter report of Akamai, enjoyed an average download speed of 2.8 Mbps during the period under review. Trailing behind are India and Indonesia, with 2.3 Mpbs and 2.2 Mbps average speed, respectively.

Again, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore were the top 4, with their connection speeds touching the 70 Mbps-to-98.5 Mbps range at peak.

How pathetic is our internet connection, fellas? And why do we have the slowest online connection in Asia?