Making the most of in-person classes

POINT OF VIEW - Leonora Aquino-Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The directive to open schools in August and shift to in-person classes by November is welcome news. According to a recent survey by Pulse Asia, 94 percent of adult Filipinos agree to a return to in-person classes. The online classes that lasted for almost two years highlighted the inequities among students. The poor had to contend with unstable internet connection, lack of gadgets and cramped housing conditions. The parents who are mostly daily wage earners had to squeeze in time to help their children with the modules, worksheets and other assignments.

But the most important reason for resuming in-person classes is the urgent need to recover the learning loss made worse by the pandemic. This loss has been due to poor quality of education that has beset our country for decades. For many years, we have a system wherein students are in the classrooms – yet they do not learn.

Global education experts have warned that the damage caused by school closures would be significant and would bring persistent damage to our children’s learning and well-being for many decades. The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel in their report, Prioritizing Learning During COVID-19, estimates that without urgent action, a Grade 3 child who has lost one year of schooling during the pandemic could lose up to three years’ worth of learning in the long run.

The Government’s Basic Education Development Plan 2030 (BEDP 2030) has acknowledged the learning loss and has provided a roadmap in the next 10 years, including a plan for post-COVID 19-recovery. Returning to schools is anchored on the BEDP. Four priorities are identified in the BEDP 2030: ensuring quality and attainment of learning standards; expanding access; improving equity and empowering learners to be resilient and responsible.

So the goal is to go beyond resuming in-person classes but to provide high-quality learning.

The BEDP has gone through consultations with various education stakeholders. Still many pressing concerns need to be addressed.

Safety. DepEd said that there would be no need for inspections to re-open schools. It also indicated that classes would open regardless of the COVID-19 alert level. The intent might be to do away with stringent requirements imposed on schools but parents would still want to be assured of the safety of their children.

How safe are our schools? Parents and even teachers may rightfully ask. Before the pandemic, students in public schools were packed like sardines in a classroom.  How will it be this time? How will the ventilation be? Will there be enough water stations to wash hands? Protective masks? With the overcrowded public transport, how would the students get to school safely? Finally, what measures would be taken if children or teachers get sick of COVID? These are important questions since vaccination is not a requirement for incoming students.

Recovering learning loss.  The first step is to understand where the students are – their proficiency level according to the standards of the K-12 curriculum as well as their mental and psychosocial condition. The students have to be given time so they can adjust from months of staring at the computer screens to actively participating in class.  Would ten weeks be enough for them to adjust? How soon can we have an assessment to determine learning needs and foundational skills? Based on the results of this assessment, students can be grouped and the lessons and teaching methodologies can be made more appropriate. Each region, each community, each school, each child is unique and there is no single formula that will address in so short a time the losses the students have been incurring even before the pandemic. There may be costs upfront for these assessments, but in the long run, the recovery program would be cost-effective.

Equipping teachers. The teachers are our frontliners in the battle for recovery of learning loss. Sadly, teachers just have too many tasks, many of which are not related to teaching. They, too, have families who might be also affected by COVID. The plan to hire non-teaching personnel to help with the volumes of non-related teaching tasks of teachers will help. But we may need teaching assistants to help with customized teaching.  More quality trainings, coaching and mentoring for teachers are also needed.

Catching up is going to be a tough ride. The Philippines can learn from global lessons to pursue an evidence-based learning recovery program. The coming months will be a critical time to push for an iterative and sustained dialogue with important stakeholders in the field like the local government units and parent-teacher associations. Vice President Sara Duterte has the advantage of popularity to address their anxieties and in the process build trust.

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Leonora Gonzales teaches at the University of the Philippines, College of Mass Communication.


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