The ongoing virtual education struggle

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony F. Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - September 30, 2020 - 12:00am

When the global pandemic happened last February, nobody knew what to expect. Would we be stuck indoors for a week, a month, two months? I don’t think that anyone would have guessed that seven months later, we would all still be on some form of quarantine. If we had known then, I’m sure we would have all been even more depressed thinking that almost 200 days later we aren’t any closer to controlling the coronavirus than we were when the pandemic first hit.

But, life must go on. After a very long ECQ, we began looking for ways to safely continue with work, find new ways to live, and prepare our kids for the new school year. It became very clear that it would, most likely, not be safe for children to go back to their physical schools for academic year 2020-2021. While children weren’t on the most in danger list for COVID-19 early on, it was much more dangerous for them to be in school because we can’t guarantee that all kids will strictly follow safety protocols. They can’t help it – it’s in their nature to hold things, put their hands on their face, and not be as mindful of constant mask-wearing.

So, the Department of Education (DepEd) decided to keep the kids at home. There was some discussion about postponing the school year in general. This was not well received by most parents – especially those from households that could afford distance learning. But for several thousands of Filipinos who do not have access to laptops or internet access, it was an important discussion. In the end, school continued and families had the choice on how to pursue their education in the time of coronavirus.

I know these decisions have not been easy for anyone. Some families opted to home school – an option that still required a lot of commitment, tuition, and enrollment with a DepEd accredited homeschooling program. Others opted to distance learn with their existing school or a new school. Others still opted to do modular learning – an option wherein learning packets are picked up from the school and done at home. All three are not without obstacles and challenges. One thing remained for each – parents with younger children had to provide much more supervision.

Honestly, I have to commend everyone involved. I have seen how challenging it has been for my granddaughter to adjust to the thought of not returning to school this year. The interaction with her classmates is something I knew she was going to miss. At the same time though, I know she is blessed to have internet connection at home and a device with which to attend class. The same can’t be said for everyone and I give credit to parents and kids scrambling to get their requirements together.

Figuring out classes has been difficult for a large portion of our population. While some private schools began classes a while ago, DepEd delayed the start of several schools to give them more time to figure everything out. This time was desperately needed for teachers and school administrators trying to make the adjustments needed to have successful distance learning that is inclusive for all.

I honestly commend the teachers who, let’s face it, were not trained for this type of teaching, but are still doing their best to teach and make do with the current situation. It is not easy to teach online. While the technology makes it possible, it’s very energy draining to keep children engaged through their screens day in and day out. It’s already draining for most adults to attend online Zoom meetings because the energy level required for online interaction is much higher than in person. If we get tired from attending online meetings with other adults, it’s double that for teachers trying to keep kids engaged and learning.

And that’s just one side of the coin. The other is preparing lesson plans, modular exercises, and activities throughout the rest of the week. Plus answering parent questions, comments, and yes complaints too. It’s a full-time commitment and a lot more involved than it used to be.

The parents are also an integral aspect of school success this year. It was heartbreaking to see how many parents worried about finding ways for their children to attend online classes. From trying to secure laptops, phones or tablets, to ensuring ample internet connection -- parents everywhere are trying to make it work. Right before school started, lines at computer stores in the malls were miles long and if you tried to go into a store now you’d see how they have all been picked clean of laptops, tablets, and other online learning devices.

Getting an internet connection was another matter altogether. There are still many of our countrymen scrambling to stay connected during classes. For some children, this means going to far-flung areas where the connection is more stable, staying outdoors all day near where the signal is strongest, and other similar situations. It’s heartening to see them giving it their all, but at the same time sad to see how difficult it has to be daily just for them to be able to continue their education.

And of course, the kids themselves deserve some credit too. This was not how they envisioned going to class. It can’t be easy for them to adjust to new ways of learning, all while stuck indoors for the past seven months. I honestly hope things change for the most vulnerable of us, and I hope the government steps up its efforts to mitigate and control the effect of the virus so life can slowly improve.

By this point, school has started for a lot of students, but the struggles continue. If the government can provide more support during this trying time for education, it most definitely should. Some LGUs have provided teachers with laptops, while others have created “internet hubs” for underprivileged areas so that the kids can have access to an internet connection. But these are just a few steps. We should do more to support our teachers, parents, and kids struggling to study in this new normal.

For comments questions, please feel free to email the author at: tonyk219@yahoo.com

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