[OPINION] Old school to new school: Transitioning PH schools to remote learning
The COVID-19 pandemic has put to an end the dominant paradigm that underlies our school system. We say goodbye to the “old school” that is based on a one-size-fits-all approach and say hello to the emerging customized fit-for-purpose education eco-system that is designed for undisrupted learning. The concept of this “new school” is fluid and will remain as such.
There are 3 major weaknesses of the pre-COVID-19 “old school” system:
The current school system is vulnerable to disruptions. The face-to-face delivery platform of the current school setup is rendered useless in times of disruptions. The Philippines is annually visited by typhoons as many times as the letters in the alphabet. We also have 22 active volcanoes that take turns acting up. Earthquakes, floods, and other emergencies both natural and man-made are a frequent occurrence. The current health outbreak is not going to be the last. The challenge is how to make undisrupted learning the core strength of the education system.
The official curriculum limits flexible learning options for the learners. It assumes that every Filipino child in every grade level must possess a minimum set of competencies regarded as essential knowledge, values, and skills to be functional and productive citizens who are "MAKA-DIYOS, MAKA-KALIKASAN, MAKATAO, AT MAKABAYAN." We have been tested by the community quarantine if these values have indeed been observed.
Has the general public displayed scientific literacy and mathematical thinking to not only understand, but more importantly, to conceive of solutions to the outbreak? Do we possess the practical skills required to survive and provide others such as the frontliners with the practical things they need? Have we displayed the civic competence required to thrive? Has the curriculum been responsive and relevant? Is the current curriculum preparing us for the next pandemic? Is the curriculum flexible enough to accommodate the lessons learned from the pandemic?
We are all witnesses to our homes being transformed as the de facto classroom. This is where and when social exclusion is felt the most. Each home is unique. Each community is distinct. The students’ contexts are so diverse that a fixed curriculum could not adequately address the learning needs of individual learners, their homes, and communities. The curriculum ceases to be a fixed set of content that must be learned (or remembered) but a learning playlist customized by learners themselves based on their realities, interests, and identified problems they want to seek solutions to. Knowledge and its delivery platforms should be differentiated and customized to the real-life challenges of learners. (READ: [OPINION] What will happen to poor students when schools go online?)
The current school system has relegated the teachers as curriculum implementers rather than as resource guides and learning task designers and innovators. Information and communication technologies not only diversified sources of knowledge but made it more accessible. Learners have access to a multitude of sources of knowledge. Hence, teachers are no longer the only source of knowledge. They cannot remain teaching lessons that can be googled or watched on YouTube.
To remain relevant, teachers should re-orient their practice toward designing learning tasks and episodes that challenge students to explore discovery and application of existing knowledge and pursue solutions to real-life challenges that learners experience and will experience. The new role of the teacher is to guide the learners on available resources students can use and learn from. Teachers are similar to medical doctors that diagnose the learning health and well-being of their students and give out the appropriate prescriptions. The community quarantine is forcing teachers not only to think outside of the box but to shatter the boxes and harness their collective creativity to imagine innovations that reach every learner in diverse contexts.
What emerges from lessons learned from the COVID-19 outbreak is the need to explore the new normal for our schools. A table of comparison is made to summarize:
The pandemic presents a great opportunity for the Department of Education (DepEd) to transition the school system to something more resilient to disruptions and more prepared not only for the current outbreak but for the next pandemic as well. This requires a new thinking, a new way of seeing education. The “new normal” does not have a definite shape yet. What is emerging is a menu of flexible learning options that adapt to learners in diverse contexts rather than learners adjusting to the system. (READ: [OPINION] When schools go agile)
The DepEd is one big bureaucracy managing close to 900,000 teachers and 28 million basic education students. Policies are formulated by the Central Office and fleshed out down the line up to the individual school. Teachers frequently complain about the limited degree of freedom they have to fully respond to their learners’ needs. Some policies are perceived by teachers as restrictive and interfering from their professional judgment in the classroom. The system has relegated the teachers as curriculum implementers rather than as resource guides and learning experience designers. Key is how the big bureaucracy that is DEPED is going to harness the creative energies of teachers to nudge their practice towards the new normal.
There are 7 critical steps the Department must undertake to better prepare for the transition period:
1. Decide to transition to remote learning NOW. Whether the quarantine is lifted or not, disruptions will always be a Damocles sword over our schools using face-to-face delivery. Schools will use remote learning for at least the first two quarters of schoolyear 2020-2021 that will open in August. Such decisiveness is necessary to focus on the tasks to be done.
2. Develop the database. The DepEd has to conduct surveys on the readiness and capability of each school to conduct remote learning. Data on access and readiness of students, parents, and teachers must inform the modalities that each school will use. Teachers can contact their students if they do not have connectivity. Each student is the level of analysis so that we know what to offer each child based on his/her limitations. Each learner must be tracked and his/her data captured for decision making.
3. Involve teacher education institutions (TEI) in the new learning-ecosystem as part of the support structure. Talk to TEIs to help especially those that are considered as a Center of Excellence. Persuade them to adopt schools as their extension sites.
4. Use multiple delivery modes and flexible learning options. With the data, we can identify which delivery mode is appropriate for the student. We can have DepEd on Air (radio); we can have DepEd on-screen (TV shows similar to those on the Knowledge Channel); DepEd on Zoom (internet-based); DepEd through mail; and many other modes appropriate to the learners’ needs and context. Remote learning is not synonymous with online learning. A long list of delivery modes may be developed that is customized for diverse learners.
5. Design a consultation process that will extensively involve the teachers and other stakeholders. Teachers cannot be left behind. Move the opening of classes in August. Use the time to consult and prepare. A “bibingka” approach is necessary to mobilize the creative energies of teachers for the transition. Both the top and bottom must be involved to see things from different perspectives. School heads should now initiate at the level of their respective schools, planning meetings with the data gathered to drive their decisions.
6. Develop the short, medium, and long-term plan. The DepEd should craft the roadmap using the insights from the consultation. Underlying principles of the roadmap should be clear and “owned” by the stakeholders. Milestones should be specified for immediate and long-term plans. Plans should identify the resources needed and how these may be raised and generated. Collaboration and partnership with the private sector will be a critical component of the plan.
7. Create a mechanism for continuous communication of the initiatives. Stakeholder engagement is key in nudging a big bureaucracy towards the new normal. Make communication accessible. Let the teachers and the stakeholders feel free to express their thoughts, engage in discussion, raise issues, and offer solutions. Keep stakeholders updated on the initiatives. Transparency is critical in cultivating trust and participation.
The Department of Education cannot respond to this crisis using the same mindset that it is accustomed to using in managing the pre-COVID Philippine school system. To acquire the agility required to respond at the moment of value, it has to gradually decentralize and empower the schools. Let schools plan and let teachers learn together how remote learning may be conceptualized given their resources and limitations. The role of the bureaucracy is develop the ecosystem to support the individual school’s plan.
Now is the time to shift our mindset. Make remote learning the default mode and the “physical learning” as the alternative. This way, we become better prepared psychologically. Say hello to the new normal. – Rappler.com
Dr Feliece I. Yeban is full professor at Philippine Normal University. She is a social science and human rights educator.