July 20, 2020
Disclaimer: This topic is a developing story. As of this writing, details about the next school year is yet to be finalized.
It’s been a year of constant, fast-paced change, and in about a month, the nation will enter yet another massive transition: ushering its students back to school right in the middle of a global pandemic.
As of writing, there are more questions than answers as to how this will be done. However, there are a couple of things that seem to be certain. One, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) are committed to seeing classes resume in August. And two, there will be blended or flexible learning involved this school year, which means students will be taught through platforms both online and offline, making the use of the internet, television, radio, and modules. A proposal is also being made for limited face-to-face classes in areas considered low risk for COVID-19.
While the government, students, educators, and communities agree that education is a priority, there are also concerns being voiced out about the feasibility of blended learning. Not all students and educators have access to [stable] internet. And even if they did, online learning may not be suited for everyone.
Eena*, an incoming sophomore at a private university, had a go at online learning before the school year closed a few months back.
“It was difficult for me to adjust to online learning, because of the environment,” she says. “I see my school and my home as different worlds. I found it more tiring, but okay lang din naman, considering that it is for our safety.”
Online learning, though convenient, isn’t also always the best way to impart, especially for those pursuing technical courses.
Jason*, an incoming junior at a technical school, where crucial skills are honed in a face-to-face environment, shares this sentiment. Although he and his family eventually decided that he will still enroll in his school’s newly-adopted online classes, he also admits that, “Sayang na one year namin hindi ma-e–experience ‘yung hands-on classes.”
For other families, the question they’re painfully asking now is, “How can I even afford to send my children to school?” The pandemic has forced some to lose their jobs, which means that their kids’ education is taking a temporary backseat.
To cushion costs, some students transitioned from private to free public education, but even with government support, there are still families who are not able to afford school supplies and materials.
Another consideration is the unprecedented challenge of studying in a high-anxiety environment. Add to that the fear of exposure, both for students and teachers should limited face-to-face classes be implemented. Fulfilling requirements and creating lesson plans—these ordinary tasks feel burdensome when the entire world has been wired to just stay alive over the past few months.
Access, suitability, money constraints, and fear are just some of the very real roadblocks we have ahead of us. It is for these reasons, among many others, that more students are clamoring for an academic freeze for the coming school year. “What use is a continuous yet low-quality and inaccessible form of education when our own future is at stake?” This question was posed by youth group SPARK (Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan) in a statement to DepEd and CHED.
Supporting the next generation means listening to them. The current batch of students is being shaped by how they’re experiencing this pandemic, and we cannot dismiss their call for an academic freeze and chalk it up to teenagers looking for a way out of school. If we look at their cries, they are mostly concerned about the quality of education they will be receiving and the inequality in access.
Students need support from everyone—from education agencies strategizing inclusive learning, to local government creating programs, to schools providing training.
They also need support from educators to adjust their methods; from parents to talk with them about their schooling; and from students themselves to support other students.
Jason says that it will help greatly if institutions and communities rallied to help students focus on their studies.
From traditional education and even in homeschooling, a common theme in conversations is the need to be collaborative and compassionate in how we approach education, perhaps now more than ever. For school in the new normal to work, we all have to be willing to listen to each other, push our capacity to be creative, and change what may not be working.
Dr. Alvin, an economics professor at a private university, shared that he no longer keeps his usual class times of two to three hours because it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate in online classes.
He even started a YouTube channel where he uploads his lectures and informs his students when they will be discussing as a class. “No lectures anymore, because the students will zoom out,” he says. “Sayang ‘yung contact time. An hour of question and answer is okay.”
Ghie, a teacher at a public high school, says that educators are also being challenged with “giving justice to a lesson without face-to-face interaction,” since teachers rely on students’ body language to know how much of the lesson they are absorbing. That’s why it is important to “always screen your methods,” says Jewel, an assistant professor at a state university.
Educators need to consult with students and fellow teachers to see what is working and what isn’t. On top of this, “We are also called to be very sensitive to the needs of students, because so many are experiencing anxiety and depression,” Jewel adds.
Eena attests that encouragement, especially within the family, has been very helpful for her. “My mama told me that even if school has to stop in the physical sense, there are other ways to learn, which is online in our case. And that I shouldn’t stop learning,” she says.
For Cristina, a homeschool practitioner and advocate for the past 25 years, these times are an opportunity for parents to be more involved with how their kids learn. They can even be the ones to provide the education, which is what homeschool espouses. “Parents know their kids best,” she says. “We can all be shaped by God to be the best teacher for them.”
We often say that this season is unprecedented and that this is a year that we have never before seen. Though we are all treading on uncharted territory, how we wisely choose to further education and schooling at this time also births a generation that’s unprecedented.
May they not be just strong, but also agile. Not just single-minded, but also collaborative. Not just knowledgeable, but also kind.
And to get there, we all need to come together.
*The names and schools of the above-mentioned people were concealed for their privacy and safety.