Distance learning and education
The pandemic is education's biggest setback but also its golden opportunity
Imelda L. Areola (Philstar.com) - August 10, 2020 - 5:12pm

Educators were caught unprepared by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic that disrupted and delayed the opening of classes. We groping our way around in hopes of delivering the same quality education for our learners despite the present challenges.

The varying realities in countries and regions, as well as the individual circumstances of schools, learners and their locales, clearly show the futility of a "one size fits all" solution in response to the COVID-19 impact on education.

I agree with SEAMEO Executive Director Agnes Valenzuela, at the "Perfect Storm for Reform: Education Policy in the Time of COVID-19 and Beyond" webinar last month, in pointing out that the tendency to offer the same curriculum, content, approach and measures with standardized tests overlooks unique situations and individual differences.

This way of educating students leads to practices that expect every learner to meet the same set of objectives, outcomes or standards. As a result, education could dehumanize instead of liberate, hinder instead of facilitate each learner's flourishing.

The curricula are meant to draw out all good potentials of a human person by creating the right conditions in an educational environment for each student to discover his or her unique talents, qualities and passions. This then leads students to develop them to approach a better version of themselves especially in contributing to the world in their own unique ways.

When simplifying isn't that simple

There are places with very few cases of COVID-19 so the response of the education sector should not be the same as those places with higher cases of infections. Giving a "one-size-fits-all solution" may simplify matters, but it is not the best solution.

Present challenges due to the pandemic could be the right time to reform uniformities in educating students. Instead of responding to it the same way educational agencies expect for all schools, venues for dialogues among stakeholders should be provided. At this forums, the situations, needs and possible contributions of school administrators, teachers, parents, students, local government officials and industry partners are known. At the same time, these serve as venues for dialogue and cooperation in order to identify how to more effectively respond to issues.

Dialogue is necessary for educational agencies to craft policies that support educational reforms in sustaining and improving the quality of education amid the pandemic. Policies should also be flexible enough for education authorities of each region or province to adapt and adjust depending on their unique circumstances. School authorities, therefore, are similarly empowered to shape the curriculum with their unique set of learners and their milieu in mind.

Since the students now share their formal learning environment with their families, modules can be designed in ways that family members could be involved in the educational experience. Education thus better recognizes the role of parents, grandparents, older siblings and even household helpers to a child's development.

Parents, after all, are meant to be the primary educators of their children.

Technology aids 21st century learning

Aside from mapping out learners' access to the internet for distance learning, we need to ensure equitable access to education by considering varied options.

Some of the wired options available are computer management learning or CML, computer-assisted instruction or CAI, synchronous online learning, asynchronous online learning, fixed e-learning, adaptive e-learning, linear e-learning, interactive online learning, individual online learning and collaborative online learning.

Non-wired means for educators to choose from are correspondence learning, project-based learning, radio broadcast learning, television broadcast learning, deliver-on-demand learning kits, special circulation periodicals and course supermarket.

Like never before, it is during this pandemic that our minds are opened to the numerous possibilities and combinations of instructions that best suit students. This is the time to maximize technology and come up with innovative ways of teaching and assessing the learning of a generation of digital natives.

Technology allows students access to endless information, and as educators, we can guide them to find useful information on their own. Learning modules can help improve research skills of learners, while teachers help them discern which information sources are credible.

With technology as a tool, teachers have no need to spoonfeed students. They can instead be more resourceful in collecting and crafting appropriate materials they can then share with fellow educators.

Pandemic period linkages

The development of teaching and learning materials based on the general curriculum may differ from schools in urban or rural areas, in a farming community or in a fishing community, etc. As mentioned, learning modules can consider particular singular circumstances of learners in each and similar areas and maximize resources available to them there.

This is one area in which the pandemic facilitates the building of linkages and partnerships to collaborate and share resources, platforms and experiences across educational institutions and related industries, between local governments and even among countries.

Assessment can also use a local and global reboot. The usual paper and pen tests that stress the skill of memorization may no longer be the best way to evaluate learners, who have long questioned the need to remember a large amount of information to pass tests. Such information, after all, will always be readily available to them on the internet in solving many of the problems they can encounter in real-life situations.

Authentic assessments allowing them to apply what they learned to their personal, family and social life would be better. Education should help learners to be attentive to their or other peoples' needs and problems and use their knowledge, skills and values to respond. Such education is especially necessary so they can alleviate suffering of those around them and be of service when they are needed.

Innovations in teaching and learning demanded by the pandemic situation can make education more interesting, relevant and purposeful for learners who will in turn be more motivated and engaged. It is an opportunity to offer differentiated instructions and more personalized education.

The importance of complementarity of public and private education was emphasized at the Perfect Storm webinar. There is a need for the government to support private schools that render the nation great service as they take on the responsibility to shape productive and dutiful citizens. In crafting policies, educational agencies can dialogue and consult with representatives of private schools to ensure that challenges and needs are met during a pandemic.


Ms. Areola is a candidate for PhD Education major in Curriculum Studies at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She is a professor in Graduate School of Teacher Education at the National Teachers College.

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