3 case studies: How ready are Philippine schools for distance learning?

As we approach school opening 2020, what is on everybody’s mind is how distance learning will be carried out in fact. 

Distance learning is completely new to all but a handful of private schools already attuned to online learning using the internet. Most schools and students, however, have connectivity and bandwidth limitations.  

Distance learning using school packets delivered and collected weekly will have to be the immediate solution because face-to-face contact carries with it the risk of spreading the coronavirus.  

The learning curve for distance learning will be steep.  

In development management, there is a principle of subsidiarity: Where a lower authority can handle a matter, a higher authority should not interfere. By driving authority as far down the decision-making chain as possible, this places decision-making closer to the people.  

In the case of education, this places decision-making at the level of the school.  

So, in this new normal, the drivers of distance education should not be the Department of Education (DepED) central office or the regions; rather, it should be the schools divisions and the schools themselves.  

Here are 3 cases to show how different levels are preparing for such.  

Bacjawan Sur ES (Concepcion, Iloilo)

In the 3rd class town of Concepcion, Iloilo, school principal Rogie Espulgar is working with his 14 teachers to figure out how to reorganize their small rural elementary school for distance learning this coming school year.

Bacjawan Sur Elementary School is located 3 kilometers from the town proper and is host to housing units of families displaced by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in November 2013. It has 330 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 6.   

Five modalities for meeting students have been identified:  

  1. Face-to-face (traditional, pre-Covid-19 modality)
  2. Online classes (using web-based and digitized lesson resources [LRs])
  3. Online-Offline modular (using web-based and digitized LRs )
  4. Offline modular (using digitized LRs)
  5. Modular (using printed LRs). 

With the DepED instruction of limited face-to-face contact, Principal Espulgar and his teachers have decided to meet their pupils in shifts.

Grades Kindergarten to Grade 2 will meet face-to-face. Kindergarten will meet daily for half the day, either in a morning or afternoon session. Grades 1 and 2 will be in shifts on alternate days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday or Tuesday, Thursday).   

Grades 3 to 6 will have a modified modular schedule with some face-to-face time. Grade 3 classes will do face-to-face on either Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday, or Thursday-Friday (4 classes of 13 or 14 students per class). The other days will be modular with students working on learning assignments from home. A similar type of schedule will be worked out for Grades 4, 5, and 6.

Classes will be divided into groups with no more than 15 or 16 learners per group (Kindergarten is smaller at 10 per group).  This will allow for proper physical distancing when the kids meet face-to-face.

The total number of classrooms in the school are 13, but only 11 classrooms will be used; the other two classrooms will be utilized for online classes and as an isolation room in case of sickness.

“The world is rapidly changing,” said Principal Espulgar, “and along with it comes new innovations and technologies.

"Education has to evolve to keep pace.  The teacher’s role is not to be the sole provider of learning.  She has to be a guide, a motivator, and facilitator of learning…. Compassion, dedication, and commitment are no longer enough.  The modern-day teacher should also make herself (1) innovative, (2) tech-savvy, and (3) open to change," he added.

How ready are the teachers?

Of the 14 teachers:

  • 93% (13)  have smart phones
  • 43% (6) have laptops or desktops
  • 79% (11) have nternet connectivity
  • 50% (7) have ICT gadgets and internet access sufficiency –
  • 64% (9) have private space at home
  • 29% (4) are able to do ICT troubleshooting with competence
  • 79%-93% (11 to 13) are able to use web browser‘s, telecommunication platforms in messaging, social video platforms, video streaming platforms

To prepare for the new normal, the school went through the following types of training for the 14 teachers:

  • Mental health and psychosocial debriefing seminar
  • The new normal in Philippines basic education
    • Walkthrough of the Minimum Education Learning Competencies (MELC) prescribed by DepED
    • Basic and advanced computer software programs (depending on the level of experience of teachers)
    • Different web-based platforms for communication, educational sites, learning approaches
    • Orientation on the school’s learning continuity plan (LCP)

A physical facilities plan following health protocols was prepared in May to June. The single school entrance and exit for all 330 students plus faculty was modified and improved. More than half, or 9 of the 14 classrooms are considered makeshift classrooms .  Five of 14 classrooms are standard classrooms. One classroom (makeshift) has been set aside as an isolation room in case there are any health incidents. One standard is room is set aside for online classes.  There are 4 handwashing stations distributed in the center areas of the school.

In  July, before the start of classes, the teachers worked on the following:

  • Learning resources plans
  • School leadership expectations
  • Parents participation and roles
  • Community linkages
  • School action plans
  • The school risk management plan
  • Health protocols and standards
  • Enrollment guidelines

Navotas Schools Division (National Capital Region)

The Navotas Schools Division in Metro Manila is a small sized division of 24 schools of which 7 are high schools.  It is a highly urbanized, heavily populated schools division. 

“The schools in the division will use a modified modular distance learning approach,” schools division head Alejandro Ibanez explained.

“Individualized instruction will allow learners to use self-learning modules in print and digital form. Teachers will use Messenger chat or text messaging to communicate with and monitor students’ progress," he added.

The schools division has designed a NAVOSchool in-a-box kit for every pupil and student in the division funded by DepED and the city government. 

At the kindergarten level, each child will receive a plastic bin loaded with learning packets, story books, donated school supplies, a hygiene kits and a toy from a partner. The kit also includes a Parent’s guide that covers home learning activities and a guide to organizing the study environment at home.  

Similar kits will be given by the division to students of all grade levels. The learning resource packets will include textbooks and self-learning modules by DepED, modules/materials prepared by the division office and schools, workbooks prepared by teachers, lesson guides for parents and guardians, school supplies, a dictionary, and a hygiene kit.

There is a project in the Division called Project PANATA (PAtnubay kay NApay at TAtay) which is a virtual training using Messenger and Google Meet intended for parents.  

Since the program will be largely packet-based given the connectivity difficulties, the process flow of the school-based modular distance learning is a weekly or biweekly cycle of packet distribution and collection throughout the school year for as long as face-to-face learning is disrupted.

To help students who might fall behind, a “Tutor A Learning Child” program is being organized with para-teacher tutor volunteers being recruited. The Navotas National HS has began recruiting young alumni at the university level to volunteer to work with students in difficult circumstances.  

5 operational stages

Stage 1:  Planning (Identify MELCs for module development by Education Supervisors and teachers).

Stage 2:  Development (by development teams) of learning materials with orientation sessions to provide a standards template.  

Stage 3:  Quality Assurance (QA team in coordination with learning area supervisors)

Stage 4:  Production and reproduction (procurement of teaching/learning resources through the Local School Board using the SEF [Special Education Fund] and the school MOOE [Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses]).

Stage 5:  Distribution of kits and packets

Teachers prepare learning materials, weekly study guides, and other tools which will be distributed in one of three ways:  Pick up from school, Hatid-Aral delivery to homes, or through distribution to barangay or community learning centers.

Taytay Senior High School, Rizal

Recently an ad was flashed on FaceBook that reads: “Do you have a bicycle or motorbike? Do you have an internet connection? Do you own a sari-sari store? Or do you love teaching? Why not be a volunteer of Taytay Senior High School?”

Four modes of voluntarism were spelled out:

  • Learning Resource Mover (LR Mover) – Volunteer riders’ or bicycling group who will help deliver learning resources to homes or community kiosks of learners.
  • Connect-a-Learner – Volunteer households who will provide learning space in their homes for internet access in their neighborhood.
  • Learning Resources Pasabay/Kiosks – Sari-sari store and/or landmarks owners in far-flung communities to serve as pick-up centers for learning resources.
  • Community-based Tutorial – Volunteers who will be tutoring learners within his/her community.

As shown in the above cases, DepED schools and divisions have worked hard to design a system to address the new normal of distance learning. 
The challenge: Moving from simulation to full implementation where large numbers weekly will put stress on the system.  

How will the system address backlogs, shortages, and bottlenecks in real time?  How will the system address slow learners, learners falling behind or even learners becoming absent and dropping out?   

There will be two things to look at immediately: System efficiency and system effectiveness.

System efficiency

How well do the different parts interact and deliver as planned? What will stress the system is when week-in-and-week-out packets are going back and forth.   If families or teachers fall behind, what kind of support can help them catch up?  If a teacher cannot cope with the demands of distance learning, is there a system for substitution or support?  How do you keep the education materials production flowing efficiently and within budget?

System effectiveness

How do you ensure that learning is actually happening?  For Grades 1 and 2, this would be the 3 Rs (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic or Literacy and Numeracy). For other grade levels, it is reading and learning at Grade level indicators.  

How do you pick up slow learners or learners with specific difficulties? Recognizing learning difficulties from a distance will be a challenge.
Divisions and schools will be totally consumed with implementation issues when the school year starts with distance learning as the new normal.  They might miss many concerns. This is where the regional office comes in:  Quality Assurance, oversight (ensuring that schools and divisions are not overlooking processes or taking shortcuts), and monitoring and evaluation.

The regional office should be doing random testing of students to check effectiveness of the distance education modality and study the efficiencies of this new modality.  

The new normal must be matched by a new imagination about education.

In a recent meeting discussing the education budgets, former DepED Undersecretary for Finance Rey Laguda said: “It’s not enough to just plan for the future based on what we need today.  We need to imagine what an education future will look like.  Because we’ve never had to address something like distance learning at scale before, we need to let our imaginations help draw a picture of what that might be.”

We need to think of new approaches to on how our schools will operate in this new normal, from Imagination (What are the best ways to deliver distance learning?) to a theory of learning about distance learning. Plans can then be drawn up for delivery with scale done.  Once the school year has started, periodic and robust monitoring and evaluation will help us answer the most important question of all:  Are our children learning in this new normal?

Experimentation with distance learning will have to be led by schools and teachers who are closest to students at home. The degree of innovation at this level is a good indication of an education system that is slowly maturing. – Rappler.com

Juan Miguel Luz is former Head, Zuellig School of Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management.  Former Undersecretary, Department of Education.