Finally, face-to-face classes

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

"The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore, "as classes resume in many parts of the world, millions of first graders have been waiting to see the inside of a classroom for over a year."

It’s a fitting statement that resonates with many Filipino parents and their children, as schools in the country opened with face-to-face classes yesterday. Except that the statement was made on August 25, 2021 which means we are about a year behind the rest of the world in returning to in-person classes.

In fairness to the Department of Education, it has implemented since late last year a pilot run of limited face-to-face classes in low-risk areas. Last February while I was on an early morning drive to attend a court hearing in Dumaguete across the island, I had a pleasant surprise to see school children in their school uniforms walking along the road in southern Cebu.

“These children are lucky,” I said to myself. That’s because prolonged suspension of face-to-face classes is more damaging than the risks associated with infection transmission in schools. Lack of in-person interaction with peers tremendously impacts children’s emotional and cognitive development. Also, the absence of direct teacher-learner interaction delays competency development of the learner and significantly lowers the quality of learning, according to UNICEF.

In the Philippines, dropout rates increased under remote learning. A November 2021 report by USAID showed that the number of out-of-school youth in the country rose in the first four months of 2020 from 16.9% to 25.2%. These have massive impacts on employment, productivity, and poverty levels in a developing country like ours, studies reveal.

Thus, the only question now is how to reopen our schools for face-to-face classes safely. This is a responsibility not just of schools but also of the national and local governments. For one, most students need to take public transportation on their way to school. There are also many students who belong to poor to middle-income families now in dire straits because of the economic crisis.

For this semester which starts on September 5 at University of the Philippines Cebu, I’ll be handling a standard part-time load of six units (two sections) in the course “Communication and Media Laws and Ethics”. The course exposes the student to critical thinking, facts-based reasoning, and learning how to be challenged and what to do when challenged. These all need high levels of direct interaction and social cues that only face-to-face learning can fully provide.

But while there are already protocols on how to conduct in-person classes safely in the campus, I am aware that we are still in a transition phase this semester. So I have consulted my incoming students about their thoughts and preferences on our learning delivery mode considering their present situation. I’m hoping to strike a balance between compassion and the distinguished degree of rigor of a college education in a still-ongoing pandemic.

Based on my consultations, I will likely adopt a combination of what we call in UP as the “classic blended learning” and “blended block learning” models. The first model alternates face-to-face sessions and asynchronous online learning. Students will work on assigned readings and exercises, and then attend discussions and do group work during face-to-face sessions. The second model organizes the class into smaller groups, with assigned schedules for face-to-face sessions based on geographical and other practical considerations.


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