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Uncertainties grip new normal in learning

/ 10:29 AM July 04, 2020
Artwork by Marie Faro

Artwork by Marie Faro

(First of a series)

Much uncertainty, still, lies ahead for public school teachers as they carry the weight of the Department of Education’s provisions for its proposed “blended learning” this coming school year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Divine Esteban, a Grade 6 Science teacher at Niugan Elementary School in Malabon City and member of the Malabon Division of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, said teachers are used to being chained to their duties and believe they are flexible enough to weather different crises.

However, she said the pandemic has been tormenting many teachers as it dumped on their laps fears about the future of their students’ education.

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Classes in public schools are set to open on Aug. 24. Remote enrollment for public elementary and high school students began last June 1, but was extended until July 15 following a dismal turnout of 15.9 million enrollees in K-12 public and private schools — 12 million students short of DepEd’s target for the new school year.

“Napakahirap sa parte ng mga guro kasi sa enrollment pa lang talagang sobrang pahirap na. Sa totoo lang, ako, yung unang unang linggo ng enrollment, limang daan load kulang pa sa akin kasi kailangan mong i-video call yung mga parents mo, tawagan mo sila sa Messenger,” said Esteban. “Nauubos yung data ko, kasi data lang ang ginagamit ko. Wala akong internet.”

(It’s very difficult on our part as teachers because enrollment is already challenging as it is,” said Esteban. “In truth, during the first week of enrollment, P500 worth of load was not enough for me since I had to video call the parents on Messenger. I keep running out of data because data is all I have. I don’t have internet.”)

Online seminars, meetings galore

Teachers have also been attending online seminars and meetings to prepare for the school year. DepEd, in its Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan, said it would carry out a series of “capacity building workshops” for teacher training and support by June to address curriculum requirements covering learning competencies, content, pedagogy and assessment, among others.

This gives teachers just two months before the opening of classes to learn the ins and outs of blended learning, which combines face-to-face with any, or a mix of, online distance learning, modular distance learning (in-person delivery of learning materials to students) and TV/Radio-based Instruction.

Kris Navales, Grade 4 Science teacher at General Roxas Elementary School and president of the Quezon City Public School Teachers Association, said teachers have been taking part in online seminars left and right to prepare, but blended learning was not something that can be rushed.

“Sa tingin namin kasi hindi lang ito ganun kabilis dapat matutunan o ma-adopt ng mga teachers kasi nasanay kami sa face to face, so paghahanda ng ganitong mode of teaching, mode of delivery ng turo mo, ay nangangailangan ito ng mahaba-habang preparasyon.”

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(“We think this is something that we cannot learn and adopt instantly just like that because we are used to face-to-face teaching, so when it comes to preparing for this kind of mode of teaching, we need more time to prepare,” Navales said.)

One must consider first whether teachers and students alike would even have access to internet in the first place before they can engage in online distance learning and online training.

Not all teachers are able to join or fully make use of the online seminars for a variety of reasons, according to Navales.

Some do not have internet connection, while older teachers struggle with the training regimen because of their health. Other teachers’ gadgets are also not up-to-date to have the specs needed to download some applications.

“Pag tinuturo na yun sa’yo during seminar… Ay hindi ka na maka-follow. Nanunuod ka na lang, eh mga hands-on ano yun eh, na kailangan mo i-click ito, pag klinick mo ito masesend mo yung picture,” said Navales. “Kung wala kang ganung ka-advance na laptop hindi ka makakasunod, manunuod ka na lang.”

(“You are not able to follow when they teach you how to use those applications during the seminar. You just end up watching, but these [require] hands-on [training], you have to click this, if you click this you’ll be able to send the picture,” said Navales. “If you don’t have an advanced laptop, you won’t be able to catch up, you just end up watching.”)

Esteban, too, said it is difficult to find a steady signal in her location in Potrero, Malabon.

“‘Yun ang hirap na hirap ako kasi pagdating sa meeting, alam mo yun, nag-m-meeting ka, namamatay, nag-m-meeting ka namamatay. Halos wala ka nang maintindihan dun sa mineeting mo.”

(“That’s where I’m really struggling because when it comes to our meetings, you know, you’re in a meeting and [the internet] suddenly turns off,” she said. “You almost don’t understand anything anymore from the meeting because of that.”)

Parents, students’ readiness

The readiness of parents and students for blended learning is also a concern for Esteban and Navales.

According to Esteban, some parents have opted for online distance learning because they are afraid their children might get infected with coronavirus if they choose modular distance learning, which would compel parents to pick up their children’s modules from a school’s “Teletindahan” every lesson.

However, she said that some of her students do not have the appropriate gadgets for online learning, nor do their parents have extra money to buy load for internet data.

“Wala naman silang gagamiting gadget. Kulang din sila dun sa panggastos na gagamitin nila kung sakaling mag-d-data sila. Karamihan, sa mga estudyante namin nasa i-squatter, tapos nawalan ng trabaho yung mga magulang, so syempre ano unang tututukan niyan? Priority niya yung pagkain nila, diba? Saan pa nila ilalagay yung pang data? Saan pa nila kukuhanin kung sa pagkain lang mismo hindi sila makatugon?” said Esteban.

(“They don’t have any gadgets to use. They also lack the money to buy load for internet data. Most of our students live in urban poor communities and their parents lost their jobs [due to the pandemic], so, of course, what would they focus on? Their priority would be their food, right? Where else would they get money for internet data when they cannot even allocate enough money for food?”)

Students who do not have internet access thus opted for modular distance learning, but this, too, has its challenges.

“Ang pinakamahirap dun kasi pag modular, si parent yung mag-g-guide sa kaniyang anak, eh maraming parent ang no read, no write. ‘Yun ang pinaka problema namin,” she said.

(“The hardest thing in modular [distance learning] is that the parent would have to be the one to guide their child in studying, but a lot of our parents are ‘no read, no write.’ That’s one of our biggest problems,”) she said.

Meanwhile, Navales worries about not being able to focus on his students, especially those who are shy or afraid to ask questions and share their thoughts.

In online distance learning, there would be no space for tenderness.

“May maiiwan at maiiwan talaga na mga bata. Isa nga lang sa unang entry point eh, yung access niyo sa internet, may maiiwan at maiiwan na bata…” said Navales. “What more ngayon yung hindi kayo magkakaharap? Wala yung tinatawag na teacher touch, yung paglalambing ng teacher na napapasalita mo siya, nalalambing mo siya, eh pano ngayon dito sa online? Paano mo siya malalambing na, ‘Anak, okay lang magsalita, okay lang magkamali’ pag dito sa ganitong mode?”

(“There will always be a child who will be left behind. In the entry point to begin with, which is access to internet, there will be children left behind…” said Navales. “What more now when you are not face to face? You do not have the teacher touch, the tenderness of the teacher to get a student to speak, to show them affection. What now when it’s done online? How will you be able to encourage a student and tell them, ‘Anak, it’s okay to speak up, it’s okay to make mistakes’ in this mode of teaching?”

On teachers’ welfare

With less than two months left before classes officially open, Navales said he and his fellow teachers are trying to keep themselves healthy.

“Inaalala namin na kapag pumasok na, hindi namin alam kung positive ba kami, asymptomatic ba kami, yun yung mga pagaalala ng mga [para] sa mga sarili at sa pamilya namin kung sasabak ba kami sa trabaho. Andun yung usapin ng mental na pagiisip na yung mga anxiety ba, mga iniisip mo, gusto mo na magbalik trabaho pero paano kung magkasakit ka? Wala naman sick leave ang mga teacher…” said Navales.

(“We think that once we go back, we won’t know if we would be positive or asymptomatic [for COVID-19], so we have these worries for ourselves and our families once we go back to work. There’s also this whole matter about mental health, our anxieties and worries, that we want to go back to work, but what if we get sick? Teachers don’t have sick leave…” said Navales.)

They are also riddled with questions, for example, if they would be checked if they are fit to work once they finally return to school.

“May mag-a-antabay ba sa’ming doctor o nurse? Yung mga hygiene kit ip-provide ba sa amin? Yun din ‘yung mga pag-aalala ng teacher.”

(“Will there be a doctor or nurse to check up on us? Will we be provided with hygiene kits?” he asked. “Those are some of our worries.”)

Navales and his fellow teachers hope that safety protocols would be followed, especially for teachers and students. Should teachers and students start returning to schools, Navales also hopes schools would be safe for teachers, students, and staff, and would be equipped with hand-washing facilities.

And with or without COVID-19, he believes that teachers and students still need appropriate gadgets to be able to teach and learn.

“May COVID man o wala, kailangan pa rin ng mga teacher ng mga laptop bilang panturo nila, mga bata kailangan pa rin nila ng mga tablet, mga gadget, at syempre dahil nga sinasabi nating 21st century na, kailangan din yung ating internet connectivity ay mapabilis,” he said. “‘Yun na rin naman ang panawagan namin noon pa man, maging mataas ang kalidad ng edukasyon natin dito sa Pilipinas.”

(“With or without [COVID-19], teachers still need laptops to teach, children still need tablets, gadgets, and of course since this is the 21st century, we need to speed up our internet connectivity,” he said. “These have been our calls ever since, to improve the quality of education in the Philippines.”)

Esteban said she hopes public school teachers would be given the appreciation and  higher salary that they deserve.

“Yung mga bata namin kapagka pumasok, kami na lahat ang nangangasiwa. Papasok walang kain, pakakainin mo, uuwi walang pamasahe, pamamasahihan mo. Papasok walang baon, bibigyan mo ng baon, hindi ka naman makakakagat ng pagkain na meron kang nakikitang nakatunganga walang kinakain eh…” said Esteban.

“Sana man lang, magising ang gobyerno natin na pagdating sa kalidad ng edukasyon, sana lahat ng mga anggulo na kailangan nilang makita, makita sana nila. Wag sana sila maging bulag. Sana maging maayos na yung tatsulok,” she added.

(“When our children come to school, we take over everything. We feed them when they come to school without eating, we give them money when they don’t have any fares to get home. When they come to school with no food, we give them food since you cannot eat when you know there’s one student in the room who has none… So I hope the government wakes up, that they see all the angles they need to see when it comes to the quality of our education. I hope they won’t be blind. I hope the social inequality gets better.”)

Teaching has never been an easy vocation, but what more now in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic when Filipino teachers are fighting something they cannot see?

“Hindi mo alam kung sino ‘yang kalaban mo,” said Esteban. “Sumusuong ka dun sa unos na pupuntahan mo, hindi mo alam kung saan ang direksyon mo, kung saan ka patungo.”

(“You don’t know what you’re up against,” said Esteban. “You are walking toward a storm with no sense of direction, not knowing where to go and where you’ll end up.”)

PART 2: As school year nears, one question lingers: Are we ready? 

With reports from: Krissy Aguilar, Julie M. Aurelio, Matthew Reysio-Cruz

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TAGS: Alliance of Concerned Teachers, COVID-19, Department of Education, novel coronavirus, Philippine education, Public School Teachers
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