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Education in transition

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2020 - 12:00am

There is much uncertainty behind the shift to remote or distance learning, a move made necessary by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and alongside this much anxiety. But as we move closer to Aug. 24 – the date mandated by the Department of Education for the resumption of classes – it is important that we remember that our priorities in remote learning should not be different from that of traditional education.

Our priority should be people: our students and our teachers. That should not and cannot change, whether education is delivered face to face or from a distance.

The most important issues that we must consider, in the month we have before classes resume, are issues that involve the welfare of students and teachers. And there are many such issues to consider. As the DepEd has made it clear that the Aug. 24 date is set in stone (as of July 15 at least), I’ve tried to aggregate a few points that the government, schools, and parents may want to consider.

Invest in security: For those who are embarking on internet-focused remote learning for the first time, it is unlikely that they will have invested in the technological infrastructure necessary to keep their systems secure from hacking – and hackers will know that. Before vulnerable children are brought into virtual classrooms, efforts must be made to secure systems through segmenting of networks, vetting of web applications, training on strong passwords and how to recognize scams and social engineering attempts.

Communication will be key: Distance learning, even moreso than traditional learning, will require a concerted effort from many different individuals: teachers, administrators, students and parents. Communication is of the utmost importance to make sure that we are all on the same page – and it must mean a two-way street. The DepEd recently decided to review a recent issuance because private schools said that this order concerning them was issued without prior consultation. Similarly, school administrators should not be making plans for distance learning without consulting with the teachers who will be implementing these programs. Teachers in turn should also be in regular communication with parents, who in distance learning may as well be co-teachers and who will have a clearer understanding of how schoolwork and the new mode of teaching is impacting their children.

Set clear boundaries: While communication is necessary, it can also be intrusive – we have to realize that the normal lines between school/work and home become blurred in remote learning scenarios. Boundaries must be set between teachers and students, teachers and parents, teachers and administrators – communication is a must, but no one should expect to be available to others 24/7.

Provide holistic support: If communication allows us to learn what our programs need, the next step is making sure everyone gets what they need. If a school is focusing its efforts on online education, there must be provisions made for students and teachers to have both the devices and connection required to participate in the program. If the school is adapting the program of printed modules, the logistics of delivery must be clear, whether these are to be picked up by the parents or delivered to their homes.

The support should also come in the form of training for teachers who will be implementing this new mode of learning. The DepEd has stated that (as of June) only 40% of its public school teachers are trained for distance learning. We cannot expect teachers to do what they have not been trained to do. The training should be subsidized and standardized.

Yet support must not be solely for vocational or logistical concerns. A human-centric educational approach should not neglect the psychological needs of students and teachers who will be operating in this new framework of learning under heightened strain.

Acknowledge differences: Even the most well-meaning attempts at support will run into limitations. This is particularly true when it comes to providing access to the internet – devices are expensive and enabling connection in remote areas will be beyond the means of even the most well-funded schools. NTC data as of December 2019 indicates that only 67% of the Philippine population has access to the internet – and it should be noted here that access is not equivalent to a connection that has the speed or stability necessary to pursue online learning. While the DepEd is working on a program that involves the delivery of printed learning modules, there will clearly be a difference between learning done using an online platform and one involving printouts. The DepEd and school officials must make note of these differences and harmonize their approaches so no student is left disadvantaged by their method of learning.

But the differences can go beyond the method that the education is delivered. Some children have special needs when it comes to learning, and these students may have a much more difficult time adjusting to distance learning. State and educational institutions must see to it that these students do not fall through the cracks if learning programs are tailored towards the majority.

Embrace flexibility: Part addressing the differences in situations of students and teachers is allowing for more flexibility in the manner by which education is delivered during these times. After spending months trying to quickly piece together remote learning programs from virtual scratch, there may be a tendency to insist that these are followed to the letter. Yet remote learning on this scale will be something new for almost everyone in the country, and as the old military saying goes: “no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” Educators must be allowed to adjust based on new experiences.

Accept early compromises: While many seem to be putting on a brave face on our shift to distance learning, we must not lose sight of the face that this will be a time for transition. We cannot and should not expect perfection, nor for distance learning to be immediately as effective as traditional schooling. The shift in itself is a compromise, one we make for the safety of our children amidst a pandemic. We must understand that none of us are operating under ideal circumstances, and make allowances even as we adjust our systems to be better with time.

What is most important is that learning continues, in an environment that is safe and fair to all involved, using a progress that can adapt and improve. Our educational system too, has room to be educated.

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