Educators fill in gaps in shift to distance learning

As the country scrambled into a panic over the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, people were forced to isolate within their homes. Driven by the need to ensure the well-being of a involved in the educational system, school administrators deemed it necessary to restrict access to school campuses. 

With the gradual relaxation of quarantine measures, many schools are changing educational delivery methods to avoid exposing students, teachers, and other school personnel to the dangers posed by COVID-19. However, this has left many students and teachers at a standstill, aggravated further by the jeopardizing risks posed against the job security of many educators. 

Ultimately, the situation has only become more dire, as teachers across the country assess their options and look for ways to cope with the demands of the times.

Beyond the classroom

The shift to alternative teaching platforms comes as a challenge for educators, but several organizations and institutions have been at the forefront in helping them adapt. Among these is Teach for the Philippines (TFP), which aims to provide Filipino children with access to quality and inclusive education through equipping students and educators alike. 

Karizza Bravo-Soleto, an instructional coaching manager from TFP, shares that the organization has adjusted its training sessions for teachers to include video production and broadcast engagement—skills, she says, that are needed for blended learning—as well as exploring how to use alternate modes of delivery like radio and television. 

“We foresee the shift to home learning, and so we work toward tailoring our materials based on the students’ accessibility,” she shares.

On the ground, teachers have also been adjusting. To equip mentors, the Department of Education (DepEd) has been supporting Learning Action Cell (LAC) Sessions—collaborative learning sessions for groups of teachers—according to Isabelle Vinoya (BS-PSYC, ’19), a TFP teacher fellow deployed in Bacjawan Sur Elementary School in Iloilo. 

While using an online platform to conduct meetings and training sessions has undoubtedly posed a challenge for less tech-savvy teachers, Vinoya’s school has remained compelled to consider blended learning—a move that she describes as symbolic of being “open to embrace change”. Offered to students who have internet access and a compatible device, the module-based program would include designated periods for students to consult with their teachers online. 

Further, in preparation for the “new normal” when face-to-face sessions can resume, the administration has also been arranging other safety protocols within the school, such as implementing physical distancing measures and installing hand-washing facilities on campus. 

Cause to adjust

In light of the pandemic, many teachers understand that the traditional classroom setting poses a health risk. With this, Vinoya recognizes the significance of exploring and refining the online learning approach to better cater to the needs of students. “Online learning could be a powerful tool if [students’] needs are taken into prime consideration and if all the necessary resources—both human and technological—are met,” she stresses.

Nevertheless, Vinoya still has qualms about online learning, as she maintains, “Face-to-face classes are more effective for our students, but it’s too big of a risk to take if we allow them to attend school.” 

Her sentiments are echoed by Zheryl Abuan, a Technology and Livelihood Education teacher of three years. “May mga subjects talaga na kailangan personal para mas makita moyung progress nila (students) o para mas ma-assess mo sila nang tama,” she explains. 

(There are certain subjects that need to be taught in person for us to monitor students’ progress or to assess their performance effectively.)

At present, what worries Abuan the most is the poor internet connection and intermittent power outages in remote areas. To address these, her school has explored alternatives such as holding phone calls with students who have unstable internet connection and providing them with flash drives containing learning materials and video recordings of their lectures. Additionally, her school would also provide books to every student, as per the request of the majority of parents.

When trials arise

The shift to online learning has created new distressing concerns for private school teachers, who fear that “no work, no pay” policies would put their livelihoods at risk. For the instructors who work on a contractual basis, their salaries would depend largely on student enrollment, but DepEd has projected this to decrease in the upcoming school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Abuan adds that reduced enrollment rates have also led to the closure of many schools in her province. “Karamihan kasi sa mga parents ililipat nalangyung anak nila sa public school kasi online lang din naman ang klase,” she elaborates, noting that some parents see little difference between the quality of online classes offered by a public school and a private school. 

(Most parents would rather transfer their children to public schools since classes will be held online anyway.)

With the economic security of many teachers under threat, Vinoya argues that schools should consider giving discretionary support for them, “Although not mandatory, at the very least, schools must have some form of humanitarian support while the government is lobbying to provide affected private school teachers with subsidies and other forms of aid.”

The way forward

In the coming months, it appears that a student’s life will no longer consist of sitting in classrooms during a lecture; rather, they will find themselves tuning in to synchronous online learning sessions or using alternate modes of learning when internet connectivity is a concern. Regardless of the alternatives provided, though, many families will find it difficult to adjust from the traditional face-to-face setup.

With such a massive change ahead for educators and students alike, Vinoya emphasizes that “public schools in far flung areas” should not be left behind, further asserting, “It is imperative that the government, both on the national and local level, exhaust all possible resources to bridge the gap.”

Along a similar line, Bravo-Soleto believes the best way forward is through a collaborative approach involving contextually-appropriate solutions: “Understanding and identifying the assets of the community and working around them will be a good starting point to provide equitable learning opportunities for Filipino students.”

By Kay Estepa

By Lance Spencer Yu

Leave a Reply