Transitioning to in-person learning

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Classes started last week at the university where I teach part-time. The second semester was supposed to open in the first week of February, but due to the destruction in Cebu that typhoon Odette brought, the opening was moved to February 21.

Whenever I have the chance to talk to colleagues and school administrators, I always try to suggest that schools should now transition from online or modular learning to in-person learning, or at least a combination of both, not just purely online or modular.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of in-person classes in the country since March 2020. While we laud the innovation of modular and online-based learning that was forced upon us by this pandemic, there is no denying that the quality of education has suffered because of the abrupt changes. For one, teachers should be honest to admit that they cannot even be sure who is answering the modules of their students.

In my classes, I keep on reminding my students to take full responsibility for their own learning. Being conscious of grades is good, but it also has its downside, particularly when it takes precedence over actually learning the lessons in class. Academic cheating becomes an occasional fallback in order to maintain high scores.

To be candid, there is really no way to prevent dishonest behavior in a purely virtual learning environment. Even distance learning courses prior to the pandemic required students to actually show up in school and take proctored classroom exams. The last thing we need long after this pandemic has gone are professionals who had cut corners to obtain their degrees. Try one for a doctor, engineer, or accountant and tell me if you feel safe.

Then there is the unacknowledged fact that many teachers are incapable or unmotivated to adjust to the rudiments of online learning. Problems include trying to reach out to delinquent students who suddenly stop submitting requirements and attending synchronous videoconference lectures. Those who regularly interact with students through videoconference can also attest to the fact that such is so physically and mentally taxing. Due to network connection issues, one has to strain trying to hear a voice tone or pitch, or struggle to read body language or facial expressions.

That is why the sooner we transition back to in-person classes, the better. With the COVID-19 numbers down and with many of our school-age youth vaccinated, the transition can be done in phases. In the event that a surge in infections will happen, distance learning arrangements should still remain an option but only in emergency situations.

The news the other day that Danao City will allow limited face-to-face classes starting next week in some 20 pilot elementary and high schools is a welcome development. Cebu City is reportedly also preparing for limited face-to-face classes. The public health protocols against COVID-19 should still be in place, of course.

We can explore creative ways to effect this transition back to in-person classes. Actual campus attendance, for example, may be done in rotations as we transition from pandemic to the endemic phase of the coronavirus. Based on my experience, I deem it very important for students to actually sit onsite for midterm or final exams on some subjects. The same can also be done through flexible scheduling.

Hopefully, by next semester most students will be allowed back in campuses that are redesigned to allow physical distancing and adequate ventilation. It is ironic that we are already opening our shopping malls and tourist destinations, but our schools have remained closed.

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