education in the Philippines

[ANALYSIS] Rethink schooling now

Feliece Yeban
[ANALYSIS] Rethink schooling now

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'Just to check the modules, teachers spend 8-10 hours a week reviewing and checking. The teachers also print, collate, distribute, and retrieve these modules.'

COVID-19 will linger for a while longer. It will continue to have a far-reaching impact on many facets of our lives, foremost of which is how we educate our children.

The pandemic did not only disrupt formal education, but is forcing us to rethink the setup of schools as the primary space for learning. The Department of Education (DepEd) has made available various modalities to implement remote learning. Parents and learners may choose from Modular Distance Learning (MDL), where DepEd-approved printed/digital self-learning modules are provided to learners; Online Distance Learning (ODL), where lessons are designed by the teachers and delivered to learners via synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous (on your own time) learning, and in which internet connectivity and gadgets are essential learning tools; TV/Radio-based Instruction (TVR) with printed/digital modules; and a combination or hybrid of any of these modalities. 

After two quarters of using remote learning modalities, some lessons are beginning to emerge:

1. Parents and caregivers serve in loco magistra

Remote learning removed both the teacher and the learners from the classroom and relocated the space for learning within the confines of their homes. In the absence of the teacher, the parents or most knowledgeable others (MKO) act in loco magistra (in place of a teacher).

This is more of a reality among K-3 and special education classes than in higher grades. Learners in the early grades do not yet have the threshold skills to be independent learners. Without the active role of the parents or the MKOs, learning can hardly take place. However, remote learning then becomes burdensome to parents and MKOs, as they lack the right training and tools to be better prepared.

Schools need to develop homeschooling training programs for parents.

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2. The community as a learning hub

The absence of the teacher or lack of access to an MKO hampers learning. This is especially true for students on the printed module modality. Teachers lament about students’ failure to submit fully accomplished modules and their lackadaisical effort to read the self-learning materials.

In cases where learners are left to fend for themselves, the community or barangay leaders will have to step in as the support environment for learning. The home may be the classroom, but the community is the new “school” that provides the support facilities and resources for better learning to take place.

There are communities who patrol the neighborhood to minimize the noise during remote learning hours. But more than this, community tutors should be made available to learners. The literacy of their constituents must be made a priority governance issue at the barangay level. 

3. Remote learning is less expensive, but the infrastructure is currently inefficient

Parents and guardians perceive remote learning as less expensive despite being forced to get internet connectivity and the necessary gadgets. They save on the daily baon, transportation expenses, the usual school materials, extracurricular needs, and other school expenses. Parents and guardians also feel more at ease seeing their kids at home studying, as they don’t have to worry about their children gallivanting.

However, connectivity issues are getting in the way of optimizing learning using technology. Synchronous learning using video conferencing platforms does not run smoothly due to bandwidth requirements. To save on data, students’ video cameras are off and their audio on mute. Intermittent connectivity limits the instructional strategies teachers could use.

Oftentimes, synchronous sessions turn out to be kwentuhan time to help the teachers assess how students are processing information. The limited online session is not enough to facilitate student engagement and academic discussion.

The government, whether national or local, must ensure that every Filipino learner has a gadget in their hands, and that connectivity is accessible and affordable. Internet providers (IPs) will have to step up and make their services affordable and efficient.

The IPs are essential players for remote learning to work. They are a key sector in the emerging education ecosystem resulting from the pandemic. They should start seeing themselves as education support providers, and therefore must be held responsible for inefficiencies. 

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4. The MELCs are problematic and alienating

The DepEd reduced the number of competencies in basic education by 60%. The Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs) are those identified to be indispensable skills on which subsequent skills will be developed. These are the basic knowledge, values, and skills that students need to have because they will serve as a bridge to learn more complex skills.

Teachers complain about certain competencies in the MELCs that do not lend themselves to remote learning. Some are too abstract and conceptual, and do not readily show relevance in real life. Remote learning is context-dependent, but the MELCs are not.

Despite claims by the Department that teachers are allowed to contextualize, teachers find the curriculum too structured, and that the policies to implement it leave little room for them to decide based on their professional judgment. The Alternative Learning System (ALS) modules, however, are perceived to be more practical and relevant to remote learning setups.

There is an increasing clamor to overhaul the curriculum. Remote learning is not just an issue of delivery modality. The modality has implications on the curriculum. Remove subjects in early grades and focus on reading, writing, numeracy, and values. 

Being confined to their homes, students are starting to question why they have to know what is in their modules. In remote learning, the power to decide what is important to know has shifted from the teachers to the learners. 

5. Teachers’ roles have dramatically changed

Teachers with students on the printed/digital self-learning modules modality spend most of their time checking the modules. On average, teachers in junior and senior high school have 240-300 students who need to submit their accomplished modules weekly. Teachers review and check an average of four pages per student a week, spending a minimum of 30 seconds per page. Just to check the modules, teachers spend 8-10 hours a week reviewing and checking. The teachers also print, collate, distribute, and retrieve these modules.

Most teachers have hybrid classes. In a class, there are those who’ve opted for printed/digital modules and others for the online modality. Teachers develop instructional materials for synchronous and asynchronous sessions. They have to improve their skills in designing learning experiences appropriate for remote learning.

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Lectures do not work in remote learning. There is an increasing incidence of “absenteeism,” where students “seenzone” their teachers or just completely fail to submit accomplished modules. Assessment of student learning is also a teacher’s nightmare. Whether students are learning through the self-learning modules is difficult to determine because accomplishing the modules has become a family or community affair.

Communication is the new pedagogy. Teachers have to constantly hound their students and the parents as well, through SMS and instant messaging, to monitor if students are performing the required tasks. Work hours are commingled with personal time. Teachers work longer hours in a remote learning setup. No wonder there is a growing push among teachers to lower optional retirement to 56 years. Incidents of depression, anxiety, and burn-out are on the rise among teachers.

Around this time last year, debates about an academic freeze and postponing the school year were starting to take off. We embarked eventually on a grand experiment to open the school year via remote learning, offering different modalities. It was treated as a stop-gap measure to keep our schools open, with the assumption that the pandemic would be short-lived. We have learned so far that migrating most of our face-to-face practices to remote learning is not as effective as we had hoped it would be.

Remote learning is a different education paradigm altogether. It has its promises and pitfalls. We cannot prepare for the next school year with the same mindset that we had last year. There are lessons we could use. The choice we have is not between going back to pre-COVID face-to-face (F2F) arrangements or merely improving our current emergency setup. It is to optimize the advantages of F2F and the opportunities that online learning or a blend thereof  could provide to the Filipino learners.

I call for an extensive conversation to reset Philippine education and design the new education ecosystem, where the sector could be a major player in stimulating a pandemic economy. This is an opportunity we cannot miss. This is what our debate this year should be about. –

Dr. Feliece I. Yeban teaches social science and human rights education at the Philippine Normal University, the National Center for Teacher Education. She is currently a member of PNU’s Board of Regents, representing the faculty as the Faculty Regent.