Flexible Learning Options for Schools

Coronavirus pandemic presents a huge challenge to education, especially in developing countries. At the peak of nationwide and local closures across the globe, about 91% of almost two billion students enrolled in those countries have been affected according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. But as countries are beginning to relax their lockdown measures, this crisis is going to change schools’ reopening and teachers’ delivery of instruction – a test on the capability of our educational systems for flexibility and resilience.

For countries like the Philippines, there’s an emerging menu of flexible learning options (FLOs) that have been used in countries like Australia for students who are having a hard time staying in school. As defined, FLOs provide a menu of learning interventions and pathways that are responsive to the needs, context, circumstances, and diversity of learners (Andaya, 2017).

Below are just some learning delivery options that schools can consider in coming up with their Learning Continuity Plan (LCP):

Alternative Delivery Mode (ADM)

Alternative Delivery Modes (ADM) refer to the non-traditional program offering solutions and relevant learning materials contextualized to help learners outside the formal system (Bacani, 2017). The key element of an ADM program is flexibility in terms of learning time, entry, and exit providing them the opportunity to complete their education at their own pace. (SEAMEO INNOTECH, 2017).,

Locally, ADM is designed to allow schools to reach marginalized students or those at risk of dropping out due to personal, social, and economic constraints (DepEd Order No. 54, s. 2012). The ADM can be useful for modeling farming schools that we have a law establishing rural farm schools as an alternative delivery mode of secondary education. (Republic Act. No. 10618).

Some ADM programs in the Philippines are the Open High School Program (OPHS) and private initiatives like farming schools accredited and certified from certain government agencies such as DepEd and TESDA.

Distance Learning

Distance learning is an educational program in which the main elements include the physical separation of the teacher and the learner/s. It is not a new concept. It has been a significant component of education for more than a century. In its early form, distance learning is made possible through correspondence programs (Bates & LaBrecque, 2017) that utilized a combination of printed materials and the postal service. The University of Chicago implemented the first major correspondence program where teachers and learners were at different locations (AECT, 2001). But with the advent of radio, television, and internet-based learning, distance learning may now be conducted as synchronous or asynchronous learning.

Across the world, distance learning is being utilized in response to the pandemic. In February, China has provided educational content for primary school classes through live television broadcasts allowing 180 million students to keep learning while schools remained closed. In Argentina, the Ministry of Education launched a program that airs 7 hours a day of radio content specially produced for students. In our country, DepEd partnered with telcos to allow free access to learning materials stored within the public domain of DepEd Commons website.

Today, there are many forms of distance learning. In the Philippines, the most common are in the forms of modular learning and online learning.

Online Learning

Online learning is a form of education delivery involving the use of the internet. It may be in the form of distance learning or computer-assisted instruction (CAI). It is in the form of CAI if it’s conducted in the classroom setting where an internet-connected computer is used to present interactive learning materials.

With the advent of webconferencing and live broadcasting, online learning can be synchronous learning. It can also be asynchronous learning with the features of Learning Management Systems (LMS) and replay features for recorded content such as podcasts and educational vlogs. With online learning, students can be given freedom on how, what, when, and where they learn.

One issue about online learning is the digital divide. As of 2019, the Philippines has an internet penetration rate of 69% which is expected to grow to 73% this year. This means that 7 out of 10 people in the Philippines are connected online. These statistics can misguide school administrators in making informed decisions. About 1/4 of the country’s population are learners, but the question is, how many students actually do have access online? The answer to this question will differ among schools. It’s important for schools to conduct a survey and identify those students that can be disenfranchised from continuing their education if schools limit their options to online learning as the only option. Schools should find ways to help learners having difficulty accessing online. The purpose of education is irrelevant if students are unable to continue their learning and have no avenues to claims about having been treated unjustly just because schools are not flexible (M. Mills et al, 2015).

Homeschooling

Homeschooling is a progressive form of education where children are taught at home. Historically, it’s a common practice until the rise of public schools. It had a resurgence in the 1970s when authors such as Raymond Moore, Dorothy Moore, and John Holt started writing about education reform. In the Philippines, it’s been going on and a popular pathway among celebrities. It is also legal as stated in Article XIV Section 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution:

(2) Establish and maintain, a system of free public education in the elementary and high-school levels. Without limiting the natural rights of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for all children of all age.

In independent homeschooling, a parent can be the primary teacher and go for a personalized curriculum. But if the parent is not capable of assuring that their child will be afforded a right to education, homeschooling can be offered by expert tutors and “homeschool providers”. For parents, due diligence is needed in choosing their homeschool providers. If there’s a plan for the student to go back to the formal education system at a later time or to enroll in higher educational institutions, colleges, and Universities, the student has to take Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT) for re-entry into the formal school system. In this case, homeschool providers should be accredited by DepEd. Homeschooling may utilize the same curriculum prescribed by DepEd or opt for internationally-accredited curriculums.

Alternative Learning System (ALS)

ALS is a parallel learning structure that provides alternative options for learners to the formal school systems. In the Philippines, this is offered to learners who are unable to access formal education through schools. Learning experiences for ALS students maybe non-formal or informal sources of knowledge and skills using modular methods. It also follows a uniform lesson module for all academic subjects such as English, Filipino, Social Studies, etc.

Currently, DepEd has two major programs on ALS, namely: Basic Literacy Program and Accreditation & Equivalency (A&E) Program. The Basic Literacy Program is for out-of-school youth and adults with a goal for them to acquire and develop basic literacy skills of reading, writing, and numeracy. The A&E program is for out-of-school children, youth, and adults who have attended school, but not able to finish basic education. Through this program, they are given opportunities to complete their elementary and high school education.

ALS is mostly a community-based education program conducted at community learning centers, barangay multi-purpose halls, libraries, or even at homes. The learning delivery is made possible and managed by ALS learning facilitators on an agreed schedule.

On the final note

Studies show FLOs do not necessarily translate into effective learning. According to a 2018 World Bank report on ALS, only 20% of the total number of ALS enrollees passed the ALS Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) exam. Depending on the method, some are not straightforward and difficult to measure. (te Riele et al., 2017). On the part of schools and teachers, about 71% of teachers in the country said they have no prior FLO teaching experience and only about 26% of teachers believe that their schools are ready for ADM and ALS according to a report by Asia Foundation – Philippines. With the vulnerability of the Philippines to the unpredictability of the world and natural disasters, how can we ensure the resilience of our educational system in the future? The kind of uncertainty we face right now requires real-life skills such as creative problem solving, decision-making, critical thinking, among other skills not easily measured by standardized assessments. Most importantly, this crisis demands our ability to adapt to the fluidity of the world we live in.

If you’re a learner, an educator, a parent, or anyone with a stake to education, what flexible learning option would you recommend for schools to include in its options? An array of flexible learning options can help schools come up with an informed decision.

References:

  • Bates, R., & LaBrecque, B. (2017). Distance Learning: A Game Changer. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 20(2). https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/summer202/_bates_labrecque202.html
  • Bautista, L. N., & Torralba, K. (n.d.). Best Practices in Secondary Level Alternative Delivery modes (ADMs) in Southeast Asia. SEAMEO INNOTECH. Retrieved from https://www.seameo-innotech.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ADM-Philippines-V16.pdf
  • DepEd Order No. 54, S. 2012. Policy Guidelines on the Implementation of Alternative Delivery Modes (ADMs) | Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2020, https://www.deped.gov.ph/2012/06/15/do-54-s-2012-policy-guidelines-on-the-implementation-of-alternative-delivery-modes-adms/
  • Deped Rolls Out Als-k To 12 Basic Education. Mark Llego – https://www.teacherph.com/deped-rolls-als-k-12-basic-education/
  • DepEd taps telco partners for free access to DepEd Commons | Department of Education. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.deped.gov.ph/2020/04/21/deped-taps-telco-partners-for-free-access-to-deped-commons/
  • Expert says DepEd’s ALS ‘not fully effective. https://www.rappler.com/nation/208383-world-bank-expert-deped-alternative-learning-system-not-fully-effective
  • Mills, M., & Riele, K. T. (n.d.). ‘Schools are for us’: The importance of distribution, recognition and representation to creating socially just schools. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.academia.edu/21277642/_Schools_are_for_us_the_importance_of_distribution_recognition_and_representation_to_creating_socially_just_schools
  • Philippines: Internet penetration rate 2023. (n.d.). Statista. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/975072/internet-penetration-rate-in-the-philippines/
  • Republic Act No. 10618 | GOVPH. (n.d.). Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines. Retrieved May 18, 2020, from https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2013/09/03/republic-act-no-10618/
  • te Riele, K., Wilson, K., Wallace, V., McGinty, S., & Lewthwaite, B. (2017). Outcomes from Flexible Learning Options for Disenfranchised Youth: What Counts? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(2), 117–130. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2016.1168878
  • The Association for Educational Communications and Technology. (2001, August 3). 13.2 HISTORY OF DISTANCE EDUCATION. The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology. http://members.aect.org/edtech/ed1/13/13-02.html
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