Mixing traditional and distance classes
POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

When schools open on Aug. 24, many of the expected 20-million+ students will not be in the usual classrooms but at home taking distance lessons being introduced to protect them from the resurging COVID-19 pandemic.

Students avoiding exposure to the coronavirus can opt for distance learning that will be conducted through online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast via radio and television.

New surges in COVID-19 infections are complicating preparations for the opening of classes, with the extent and severity of the pandemic likely to dictate whether face-to-face or distance teaching, or a mix of both, will be used in affected areas.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is prepared for all likely variations. While it looks forward to holding limited face-to-face classes under strict health regulations starting January, it is ready to open distance or online learning when classes resume for school year 2020-2021.

The guiding instruction of President Duterte is that the health of students and teachers should not be placed at risk. He said he did not want to reopen schools until a COVID-19 vaccine was available.

He said: “I will not allow the opening of classes na magdikit-dikit ’yang mga bata na ’yan (where children would be close to each other). Bahala na hindi na makatapos (We leave it to fate if they don’t graduate).

“Unless I’m sure they are really safe, it’s useless to be talking about opening of classes. That’s what I meant. Para sa akin, bakuna muna. ‘Pag nandiyan na ang bakuna, OK na (For me, there should be a vaccine first. Once there’s a vaccine, it’s OK).”

Later, Duterte changed his mind and approved distance and blended learning while a cure or a vaccine for COVID-19 was being developed.

In another televised meeting with the COVID task force on July 20, the President approved the holding of limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas starting January 2021 on condition that schools follow physical distancing and hygiene rules.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones said schools in low-risk areas wanting to hold face-to-face classes must have the space and facilities for safe distancing.

With class sizes to be cut down to around 20 students, more rooms will be needed to accommodate the same number of students and more teachers must be hired, resulting in the ballooning of costs all around.

We gathered from Briones in her remarks that host local governments were expected to help defray the added costs. Some local executives have come forward to say they would help meet the extra expenses of teachers and students opting for distance classes.

In Pasig, for instance, Mayor Vico Sotto announced that the city would provide all students with tablets. Most towns and cities in the country, however, cannot do what Pasig volunteered to do.

While distance learning may be attractive to many teachers and students partly because of its novelty and its being aligned with the trend of going online for most services, it lacks the advantages of the personal interaction that traditional physical classes provide.

We understood from Briones’ presentation that she was aiming for the proper mix or a blending of the traditional classroom session and distance learning using the wondrous innovations of technology.

Briones favored face-to-face classes where and when they can be held without exposing students and teachers to COVID risks. This entails less expenses and retains the valuable social bonding of classmates and teachers.

Addressing parents, she said: “Our thrust right now is blended learning. If parents do not want face-to-face, they can do it online. If there is a problem with connectivity, we have television and radio. If the parents and children are living in far-flung areas, we can have what we call IBM or ‘it’s better manual.’ We can use our reading materials and deliver them to the children.”

At this point, no one can say at what speed and in what direction the dreaded coronavirus would spread. Although there is close monitoring, heightened testing and tracing, contamination has not been placed under control.

Government planners cannot say for sure what mix of teaching methods should be prepared for use in specific areas. They must prepare – and spend – for all possible blends and have a ready combination for speedy adoption anywhere it is needed.

On the side of parents, the biggest problem aside from their children catching the virus is buying the gadget (laptop or tablet), loading it with the program or applications needed and installing WiFi connection.

That could cost them an arm and a leg. Considering that some students do not even have pocket money for baon and walk instead of take a ride just to save on fare, spending for the needed gadgets and paraphernalia could be a big problem.

We compared notes yesterday on Twitter with other netizens on the prices of gadgets and accessories. In the exchange with Cherilyn Ngo @cherrysingh065, mhon @ProfMhonRS and Chris Garcia @_chr1sx, we learned that:

A Lenovo laptop costs P20,000-plus; a low-end tablet P6,000-P8,000; a new one P18,000-P20,000; a refurbished laptop P10,000-P12,000; a libre Office is free and supports docx and xlsx; and there are free anti-virus software. A laptop or tablet will be a one-time expense, pray it does not conk out too soon.

Internet service, if available in the area, could be a monthly expense of P800-P1,000. Looking for places with free WiFi may be risky during the pandemic. Postpaid broadband P1,000 up; modem may bayad; Pocket WiFi mahina or totally none sa dead spot.

Marianne @marianneBcruz tweeted: “Not all students are privileged at hindi lahat may peaceful surroundings or sariling room to concentrate on their online classes, and yes WiFi connection is crucial sa online class. Imagine children in public schools having a bunch of siblings around the house, how?

“Ang talagang basic? Kaya ba ng mga bata na magaral sa bahay at matuto? Hindi lahat ng average students may responsableng magulang at tahimik na paligid para jan. REALTALK”

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Nota Bene: All Postscripts are archived at manilamail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Feedback can be emailed to fdp333@yahoo.com

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