In nation of frustrated readers, history teachers share People Power through videos

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
In nation of frustrated readers, history teachers share People Power through videos
Teachers in the Philippines are faced with a large number of frustrated readers in their classes after the pandemic worsened students' literacy. But a group of history teachers in Manila have taken it upon themselves to engage these children through the format they know will engage them best -- short videos.
Philstar.com / Enrico Alonzo

MANILA, Philippines — History teacher Danilo Acosta Lumabas has always guarded his classes against myth and fiction. He knew, though, that lectures would no longer be enough after all 40 of his first-year high school students failed their first test on basic Philippine history last year.

The diagnostic quiz was meant to assess students' knowledge of Philippine history after they took up the subject in Grades 5 and 6. But "the test turned up low scores," Lumabas said, with most students from his best section scoring an average of 8 or 9 out of 20 questions. The top score was just 12 correct answers. 

"I have to make up for lost time and close the gaps in my students' knowledge about Philippine history, including the People Power revolution," Lumabas said in Filipino. "It’s alarming considering these were taught to them just a year before."

The need to make students remember their history is one thing. But thousands of Araling Panlipunan teachers in the country now have to reach students who mostly struggle to read at the level expected for their age group, which makes them susceptible to false history from disinformation operators who spin engaging lies online.

After two years of school closures, teachers across all subject areas, including social studies, have become "reading teachers" or teachers who are conscious of improving students’ literacy, said Amy Cuevas Solis, Department of Education (DepEd) Manila Education Program supervisor for Araling Panlipunan.  

The World Bank has found that the pandemic had drastically worsened Filipino students' reading abilities, with about nine out of ten Filipino children at age 10 struggling to read simple text in 2021. In 2019, the statistic was only about seven out of ten children. 

This problem has pushed 11 Araling Panlipunan teachers from Manila to create a series of short videos on Philippine historical events and figures that will make lessons easier to understand for their students, many of whom are frustrated readers who struggle to retain information from books and essays in traditional classes.

Content that the team, led by Solis, creates is patterned after the snappy videos from historical content creators and other media that have gone viral in previous years. Solis said the videos use a combination of visuals, voiceovers and accompanying text to cater to students of all reading abilities

"The videos run for just two to three minutes, but we make sure that for those minutes, students can get the basic facts and will want to learn more," Solis said in Filipino.

The video series was developed and produced by Manila teachers themselves with frustrated readers in mind, Solis explained. While it initially did not include voiceovers, the teachers added audio to guide students in reading simple text.

"In the context of history, we have a lot of readings. We cannot teach history by just asking students to read a few pages," Solis said. "In Araling Panlipunan, we really have to get students to read."

Surface-level knowledge of history 

The impact of the pandemic on students' reading abilities has made it more difficult for teachers to counter the spread of historical disinformation online during the two-year lockdown, according to teachers of the High School Philippine History Movement, a group that advocates the return of Philippine history lessons in the high school curriculum.

The problem? Some students already have a weak grasp of important Philippine historical events to begin with and that is something that online classes cannot remedy.

Gemma Soneja, an Araling Panlipunan teacher in a public high school, said that asking her Grade 10 students to explain the significance of the People Power Revolution has typically led to blank stares or tentative answers. Some students do not immediately know what important historical event is commemorated every February.

"When you ask students about EDSA, they often struggle to answer basic questions beginning with what, where and who," Soneja said in Filipino. "If you ask them ‘why’ questions, that is an even bigger struggle."

"This is why for Araling Panlipunan teachers, when we ask students the importance of EDSA, sometimes we just have to narrate it from beginning to end ourselves," Soneja said.

Once, Soneja recalled, she asked her students why Filipinos took to the streets during the People Power Revolution. A few answered: “Kasi po ano, pinatalsik ang diktador (Because they ousted the dictator)” 

"Hindi pa sure kung ano 'yung ano (It wasn't clear what they meant by 'ano')," Soneja said. "That is the painful reality."  

Facts and research, but made appealing

Viral videos and blog posts on historical myths tend to be more engaging than the one-hour Zoom lectures students attended. Worse, teachers could not immediately address students’ questions about the myths because of the lack of face-to-face interactions, according to Jamaico Ignacio, president of the High School Philippine History Movement.

But Ignacio said that even before the pandemic, he had witnessed his students’ difficulty with reading comprehension after some students turned in papers that cited urban legends, such as the fable of Tallano Gold, which they read from a blog.

Ignacio said in Filipino: "When students [bought] the false narrative and presented it in class, that’s when I saw the inadequacies of students’ comprehension and their ability to discern if what they’re reading is true or not."

At the height of the pandemic, a desire to breathe life into online Araling Panlipunan lessons led Solis and 11 other teachers to create two-minute videos that would hook students with facts about history that resonated with them. 

The initiative – called "Bidyo Kasaysayan" and "Bidyo Bayani" – was also a response to a DepEd order mandating all division offices to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the victory of Lapu-Lapu in the Battle of Mactan, Solis said. 

The videos, which are vetted by teachers with advanced degrees in history, also featured striking quotes and events that were handpicked to pique students’ curiosity. Questions posed at the end of the videos challenged students to connect the history lesson with current events, according to Solis.

A "Bidyo Kasaysayan" episode on the People Power Revolution was posted on the page of DepEd Manila a year ago, with a question at the end asking students how they can give importance to the memory of the EDSA revolution.

"It’s just facts based on research, nothing else," Solis said.

Lumabas took the video initiative a step further and started holding Facebook Live streams in 2021 to allow students to circle back to the lessons discussed in class. He later invited historian content creators like Xiao Chua to join the live streams and debunk myths about EDSA and other historical events.  

"When I was holding online classes, that’s when I was inspired to counteract the disinformation spreading for the past two years," Lumabas said. "It’s my moral responsibility as an AP teacher to guard history and its memory."

Jose Mateo Dela Cruz, vice president of the High School Philippine History Movement and a former Araling Panlipunan teacher, said that teachers often struggled to reach students who had fallen victim to disinformation that began at home.

In one instance, Dela Cruz had to respond to a parent of a student who wanted to "give his alternative view" on Martial Law when the class discussed the topic.

The student was visibly confused, Dela Cruz said, and it affected their ability to discern their lessons. 

"This is what (the student) answered in an exam: ‘Though I acknowledge there are abuses during the Martial Law period, there were gains. The following gains are infrastructure…,’ the usual script,” Dela Cruz said. “If your parents do not have that capacity to discern facts from fiction, you will have a hard time.” 

Teachers counter spread of lies on YouTube

A cursory search for Philippine history lessons uploaded on YouTube brings up videos from DepEd teachers with varying levels of production quality and depth of analysis. Some of these videos have attracted comments from anonymous users that accuse the teachers of spreading lies about the Marcoses.

These exist alongside a surfeit of videos that have long spread disinformation about the legacy of the late dictator and his family.

In particular, several videos distorting the memory of the People Power Revolution share a common narrative: that the Marcos family — who have supposedly endured years of oppression — will return to Malacañang and seize the destiny that history decreed was always theirs. 

But of all people, Acosta said, it should be teachers hardened by years of training in pedagogy that can make school-age children understand: there are no destiny-ordained leaders, and there is no secret gold stashed away that will revive the economy. Just facts about presidents’ regimes — and the lessons Filipinos should take from them.

"It’s important that students see teachers who are concerned about what they believe in, who want to debunk the false information they read online," Lumabas said. "My students see the authority in the teacher in the person of myself. (They think): ‘Let’s listen to sir, it looks like he knows more than what we read on social media.’"

Content creators that focus on history, such as Xiao Chua and Mona Magno Veluz (MightyMagulang), also help complement the efforts of public school teachers by putting out well-produced and well-researched videos they can show in class, Lumabas said. 

Solis said that DepEd Manila’s history video series was even patterned after the short, teaser-like format used by content creators online.

Xiao Chua said that while he creates history lessons for the public, many of which are targeted to teachers in schools, it is the teachers themselves who face children directly and can tell the full history beyond snippets.

"Teachers are the second parents. Not all parents teach their children about history. Teachers are the ones with the power to communicate these ideas (about history)," Chua added.

Chua added that while content creators help to preserve the memory of important historical events, "the machinery of disinformation is stronger," which he said requires teachers in the education system to engage with students directly. 

"They are the ones on the ground," Chua said.

Similarly, Veluz said that content creators like herself offer students a "snack" of history with their short-form videos. But the "full meal" or complete lesson should still be discussed in class by teachers. 

"Digital information is consumed more. Short-form videos are pulling a large audience. But you cannot achieve mastery in the short-form video. Teachers will have to tweak their techniques to match the way students learn best," Veluz said.

Lumabas and Solis has said that DepEd Manila's short video series does not replace, but instead complements, the lessons that teachers deliver on Philippine history.

Soneja said: "Deepening students' understanding of history primarily happens in the classroom. But we thank the content creators — because after we teach our lessons, it's their videos that students can watch on Facebook, Twitter and TikTok that would allow them to reflect on what they learned in the classroom."

"The challenge is for the teacher to begin with facts inside the classroom, to emphasize the importance of commemorating events in Philippine history," Soneja added. "Content creators can help reinforce those lessons."

Calls to tweak history curriculum

President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. previously dismissed concerns that his administration will rewrite textbooks and censor lessons that deal with the human rights violations and abuses that took place under his father's regime 

But fears of historical revisionism in basic education are not unfounded. In 2022, students noticed DepEd-published modules that replaced the term "Martial Law" with the more palatable "Period of the New Society.” 

This prompted the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the country's largest group of public school teachers, to call on teachers to be vigilant about the modules they use for classroom instruction.

The High School Philippine History Movement has also been calling to bring back a dedicated class on Philippine history in high school, which was removed when the K to 12 curriculum was introduced in 2013. Two bills are currently pending in Congress in favor of returning Philippine history to the high school curriculum, one of which was filed by Sen. Robin Padilla at the Senate in 2022.

John Kevin Samson, the movement's communications director, said that extending high school from four to six years should have led to more class hours devoted to Philippine history.

"But apparently that’s not what happened. What happened is we added subjects in all subject areas, not just Araling Panlipunan. And apparently that led to the removal of Philippine history in high school - which is supposedly the age where students can develop their analytical skills and critical thinking," Samson said. 

In the meantime, Samson said, teachers of the movement are focused on integrating lessons about the EDSA revolution in their own classes about Asian history, geography and contemporary issues.

DepEd Manila’s video series has gathered positive feedback from teachers and students, which inspired the teachers to create more videos, this time on historical markers and heritage sites, Solis and Lumabas said. 

Lumabas said that after his students watched their video series’ episode on the EDSA revolution last year, one typically quiet student broke through the class’ heated discussion and asked: “If President Marcos was a decent leader, why did Filipinos make him leave?” 

The class went silent after, according to Lumabas.

"It seemed like the class as a whole came to their senses. For them, it was like common sense. ‘Oo nga, bakit sya pinaalis?’ (Good point, what were the reasons for his ouster?)” Lumabas recounted.


Read other reports on the 37th anniversary of the EDSA People Power revolution:

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