Posted in August 15, 2020, Saturday.
When I left my teaching job last May 2020, schools began planning and preparing for possible remote learning. But few days before the opening of the classes, the Department of Education (DepEd) has once again moved the opening of the classes to October 5, 2020 – an unexpected move that has shocked the sector. The decision comes when groups of private schools like the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Institutions (COCOPEA) and other private schools believe that they’re ready. Though non-DepEd schools are still allowed to operate on or before August 24. While there are different perspectives surrounding the opening of the classes coming from different stakeholders of education, the decision raises many questions about DepEd’s preparations. During this pandemic, it’s very important that education has to continue. But with all the challenges in implementing modular learning, online learning, and some issues on TV/radio-based distance learning materials that could have been avoided or addressed earlier during months of planning and preparations, starting classes is now an issue of readiness.
Prior to the opening of the classes, DepEd has conducted a survey for parents. For public schools, remote learning is largely modular as 8.8 million or 70% of the parents who participated in a survey preferred modular learning. The agency also secured support from the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) for a TV or radio-based education as 1.4 million parents preferred educational televisions while 900,000 parents chose radio-based education. In private schools, online learning is likely to be a mode of learning. But a few days before the supposed opening of the School Year on August 24, there’s a change of tone in the readiness of the public schools. Despite the PHP 9 billion budget allocated for printing modules, some public schools admitted that they’re having a hard time printing Self-Learning Modules (SLMs) because of the huge printing cost and some public schools also admitted difficulty in delivering modules. There are some news reports that claimed some teachers are already asking for donations and local government units (LGUs) are filling in the lack of resources. There are also concerns raised on the safety of the teachers and students who are going to take modular learning as situations in some regions are worsening. One public school teacher who reported to work was diagnosed with COVID-19, but she has already infected other family members. In some private schools, some teachers who don’t have computers/laptops are forced to do online learning without support like letting them borrow school computers during this time. Though, many private schools said they’re ready. Despite every school’s learning continuity plan, indecisiveness dominates the sector. Prior to the crisis, DepEd and schools are usually firm on their decisions. But now, there can be frequent or sudden changes to many things like stand on certain issues, schedules, etc.
Teachers, students, and their parents’ needs
As the formal education system is on heavy stress with the current situation, there’s a growing clamor for academic freeze and teachers are sometimes the ones feeling the brunt of this huge resistance to remote learning. So when “VinCentiments” released its latest video about online class, I understand why teachers are offended because they too are struggling and needed help. The teachers are aware of the different situations of the students, but they are enjoined to implement the school’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP). As much as I understand that the video was made on the perspectives coming from the students, the video has portrayed teachers to be the ones who are responsible for their struggles towards the sudden digital shift to education and failing to recognize other remote learning modalities. Though teachers are part of the educational system, they have little control in deciding whether education should be temporarily stopped or not. The decision is for educational policymakers and leaders who have the data to make informed decisions. Trying to mock and shame teachers during this difficult time is irresponsible especially that they are too affected by the crisis. After two months of contemplation, I rejoin the education sector as a learning support staff in a certain private school. From my perspective who is currently helping some of them adapt to online learning, they need emotional support, understanding, and some patience. In the last few days before August 24 which is supposedly the opening of the school year, I have witnessed how teachers struggle in adapting to the “new normal” and “feeling down” when things are not working during the trial sessions. At some point, I find myself trying to motivate them because they couldn’t deliver the lesson properly in a synchronous learning setup. In both public and private schools, teachers have needs ignored, but they continue to perform their jobs. Students who will be learning with SLMs don’t have immediate access to expert learners since not all parents can help them learn with those materials. Some learners who are enrolled in private schools may also disenfranchise in continuing their right to education. This crisis is going to be very difficult for parents who don’t have the means because the priority is to put food on their table and their safety.
Implications of Academic Freeze
If the academic freeze is going to push through, the public school system can weather it. But the damage it can do to private schools will be permanent and long-term. A large number of private school teachers who are licensed professionals will be forced to change careers and possibly never come back to the field. It’s true that there are teachers who don’t care about the quality of education and just working to earn. But let us not fail to generalize teachers because I know a lot of teachers who wanted to improve the system. Some of them are fearless and vocal in demanding what is right from educational leaders who are silent about the different problems in the system. It’s also true that there are school owners who are trying to make education as an enterprise rather than a mission but let us not fail to generalize that there are educational leaders who are in the right mindset, open-minded, and supportive. Some of them have done their jobs too while some failed to do consultation and continues to ignore the needs of their teachers. While the safety and health of everyone is the top priority, the implications of an academic freeze will have a long-term devastating effect. That’s why a number of teachers have adjusted and worked hard to make different modalities of remote learning work despite of many challenges.
Educational Divide: The Uncertain Future of Education
From February 10, 2020 to March 10, 2020, I was allowed to report in a night public high school to teach in relation to my study. I could say that the lack of access to resources in public schools made online learning largely impossible to implement. Hence, having modules for remote learning was the right intervention for most of the public schools. For private schools, the majority of the students have access to resources on online learning. Though, there are still some students who might be disenfranchised if private schools continue to shift to online learning since not all are coming from well-off families. Delivery of SLMs is a struggle, especially to remote areas. So with different conditions of the learners, DepEd and schools came up with different modalities to cater to different learners. Though despite these remote learning interventions, problems encountered during the pandemic may still lead to a wider problem bigger than the “digital divide”, the “educational divide” if students’ needs are continued to be ignored. It will be difficult to regain them back once they have decided to completely stop schooling. Hence, looking at the situations of every student in implementing remote learning shall also need to be considered. But with limited manpower and resources, it’s uncertain whether the education system will be able to give the right support for every student.
Rethinking education during this difficult time
Some progressivist educators are calling for a rethink in education promoting remote learning. In the current system of formal education, a one-size-fits-all approach is a norm with standardized assessments as one of the clear manifestations. But many progressivist educators criticized it for being flawed because everyone has unique needs, interests, and potentials. The leading philosophical perspectives that have shaped the formal education system are essentialism and perrenialism. Basic skills needed by society and everlasting facts are emphasized in the education system. In this view, we need to learn academics and prepare ourselves for the jobs market. However, this is an inflexible form of educational philosophy and the COVID-19 pandemic has shown its weaknesses so as some of its latent societal functions that only benefit the few. In the minds of progressivist educators, education should be responsive and adaptive training students to become problem solvers and critical thinkers able to make social reforms. This kind of approach is student-centered that is concerned with students acquiring education by “learning by doing”. During this time, there are many ways that students can learn new skills. But inequality in accessing these resources is a social issue and the current paradigm is still largely influenced by the same factors that have shaped our political and economic institutions.
With all the problems and challenges in the education sector, should an academic freeze be pushed through?