Covid-19 and the students

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

COVID-19 is definitely going to make life more difficult for students, and there are millions of them. But we should not forget that the reopening of classes is also going to make the lives of teachers, administrators and parents just as difficult. The Department of Education has just announced classes will begin on Aug. 24 for 23 million Filipino children who have enrolled for this coming school year 2020-2021.

At this point the DepEd really did not have much of choices. Secretary Briones has pointed out that all the other countries in Southeast Asia, except for Cambodia, have opened their schools. It is very clear that our children must try to remain at par with other countries. Aside from that, several private schools have already opened their classes. The gap in the quality of private and public education in this country is already so wide that any delay in opening of public schools will simply widen that gap in education quality. This gap will lead to gaps in achievements of socio economic classes, since the lower economic classes are the ones mainly attending public schools.

Higher education has been thriving in this country and, in fact, all over the world from the rich countries to the emerging economies. This boom was motivated by the belief that a university degree was essential for any success in almost all careers. Throughout the world, the number of young people enrolling in higher education rose from 16 percent of the relevant age group to 38 percent. In the Philippines, the evidence is the most prosperous universities have opened satellite campuses in areas just outside Metro Manila. Campuses and buildings have become one of the status symbols of most universities. There are universities like De La Salle and UP that have even developed university systems with universities located all over the Philippines.

Universities located in Metro Manila continue to be the main drawing power for all university systems. De La Salle University Manila (along Taft) and UP Diliman are examples of these campuses that have the highest drawing power in their university system.

Metro Manila universities also attract a high number of enrolees especially from China and South Korea. Some second tier universities have even developed special programs and actively recruit in their mother countries. On the other hand, more and more children of the affluent families here now enrol in universities outside the Philippines, especially in the United States and Australia. It seems to have become a status symbol since many of them study in universities that are not really highly rated.

For many years these colleges and universities have resisted change. Now that that the norm is blended learning, a combination of online and face-to-face teaching schools and teachers will have to adjust. There will be different levels of adjustment. A few schools that have made online teaching part of their teaching style will easily adjust. It is the teacher rather than the students who must be proficient for an online class to have any chance of succeeding.

De La Salle University System has a history of trying blended learning. The University of the Philippines has had experience with its Open University,  which is a completely online educational institution. As schools begin to reopen many of the institutions will be forced to adjust or even close. Some colleges and universities are already laying off personnel. Some colleges with fabled sports history have cut back on their sports programs. Colegio San Juan de Letran, a pioneer in the NCAA and Philippine collegiate sports, has decided to cut back on its intercollegiate sports programs. Many institutions are also dependent on state funds. As the government scrounges around for funding for its anti-COVID fight, there will not be too much funds and attention left for education.

This is the dilemma of many Filipino families. A lot of funding for education came from tuition fees which parents try very hard to secure. Many overseas workers would say that one of the main reasons they left to work abroad is to earn enough to send their children to school. Now the pandemic is seriously affecting that source of funding. Families, even overseas workers, must resort to focusing on the basic necessities of life.

On the part of teachers, a much neglected problem is the drastic change in “culture” from teaching face-to-face to teaching online. When I was teaching in the DLSU MBA program, teachers were already being encouraged to teach some courses or, at least, some hours online. I had a very difficult time adjusting although I had been teaching the same course – Strategic Management – for 22 years. How do you reprimand a student or show him or her how to improve communication skills when all you see are faces on a screen? On the other hand, this could be a matter of age. My son is teaching part time at La Salle Greenhills and he does not seem to have any problem with online teaching. In fact, he does all his tutorials now online.

Some of these educational institutions are in a very precarious position. For the most part, the elite universities will probably make it through the crisis. They have cash reserves and the ability to borrow on generous terms. The top tier schools are unlikely to struggle for students for long.

The unequal effect of COVID-19 on schools will just further exacerbate the division between the quality of education of the socio economic levels of society.

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An invitation for young writers, ages 8-15:

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