News Commentary

Going back to school is a delicate balancing act

Louie Montemar - Philstar.com
Going back to school is a delicate balancing act
Students wait in line before classes at Ricardo P. Cruz elementary school in Taguig City, suburban Manila on Dec. 6, 2021, after authorities loosened COVID-19 coronavirus restrictions to allow limited in-person classes in the capital city.
AFP/Ted Aljibe

As of this writing, the reported number of Covid cases in the whole country has been averaging at just under 3,000 a day over the last few weeks. Given this, the Department of Education (DepEd) Memorandum Order No. 34, s. 2022 or the School Calendar and Activities for the School Year (SY) 2022-2023 appears very optimistic.

Released on July 11, 2022, this memorandum-order mandates that SY 2022-2023 shall open on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022.

The order, however, has elicited mixed reactions especially with its provision that starting November 2, all public and private schools should have transitioned to five days of in-person classes. It posits that “after the said date, no school shall be allowed to implement purely distance learning or blended learning except for those that are implementing Alternative Delivery Modes.”

Reacting to these, Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte has clarified that DepEd does not have guidelines yet for full distance learning for all schools at the moment. Her department, she said, would wait for the guidance of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. if full distance learning could indeed be rolled out for all schools.

The education secretary further said that DepEd would not impose a class size for in-person classes but will implement physical distancing “whenever possible”. The department will also implement health protocols such as wearing face masks, maintaining physical distancing and frequent washing of hands to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

In a letter dated July 14 to the Vice President and Education Secretary, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines or COCOPEA -- which counts 2,500 educational and learning institutions among its Member-Schools, Colleges, Universities and Tech-Voc Institutions -- emphasized that blended learning had been an effective mode of learning delivery in private schools in the past two years. Blended learning allows flexibility and balance of both online and in-person classes in improving students' learning outcomes.

In a statement, COCOPEA reasoned that private schools cannot totally disregard international health and safety standards, including those required by our respective local government units (LGUs). Observing the one-meter social distancing requirement and the 20-student limitation per class, the number of students who enrolled in online classes cannot be accommodated in the schools under a five-day in-person classes [setup] without the shifts to online classes.

I support this position of the COCOPEA considering the rising rate if infections of what is supposed to be a more virulent variant of COVID-19 not just here in the Philippines but globally.

COCOPEA also pointed out that their numerous surveys showing that the majority of parents favor either blended or fully online learning, over in-person learning which is totally reasonable as no parent would want to risk the health of their children if alternative modes are available such as the blended school modes of teaching and learning.

COCOPEA correctly points out that legally, private schools are governed by their respective boards and administrators subject only to reasonable supervision and regulation by the state in recognition of its complementary role in education.  

The state should, therefore, support parents' natural and primary right and duty to nurture their children by empowering them with a choice of education platforms in schools that suit their needs and objectives subject to the minimum standards set by law, COCOPEA added. 

Of course, resuming in-person classes is important and must be our overarching objective. Many studies have pointed out that the pandemic has taken a great toll in the quality of our students’ learning and if not rectified will have lifelong consequences in terms of the competitiveness of our human resources.

But it is equally important to ensure that we do not compromise the health and safety of our students at this crucial point. Students sitting too close to each other in cramped classrooms would pose more health hazards and much worse, be the super spreaders of another COVID-19 surge. 

Secretary Duterte should hence hold regular, consultations and planning sessions with representatives of all stakeholder groups in the education sector, especially teachers and school administrators-owners’ groups to get on the ground insights for responsive policies.

It might come as a surprise to the well-meaning education secretary to know what the academic literature says about the effectiveness of online or internet-based learning schemes compared to face-to-face or traditional educational arrangements.

Countless studies have cited that there are no significant differences in learning outcomes achieved by students engaged in face-to-face interaction and by those participating in distance learning. 

In fact, beginning around the year 2000, several studies, including meta-studies (review and analysis of hundreds of studies selected for their rigor), began to find significant differences in favor of online learning. These studies culminated in 2010 with a report from the U.S. Department of Education entitled a “Meta-Analysis and Review of Online Learning Studies,” which asked “What does the research in instructional immediacy and the practical suggestions innate to Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) Seven Principles tell us about effectiveness in web-based instruction?

The answer: Just the things that most (good) instructors already know encourage students to think and learn, give prompt feedback, provide guidance and support, and consider what new and different ways technology may add support to current strategies and help to induct new ones.

At the end of the day, student-oriented quality education requires policies shaped through meaningful and timely consultations between the public and private sectors. This is especially true given the historic role of the private sector in developing our national education system. No single stakeholder group possesses all the answers, and good policy results from a participatory and inclusive environment.


Louie C. Montemar is a fellow for Education at the Stratbase ADR Institute and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the PUP.


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