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PH teachers get helpful ‘JOLT’ in transition to distance learning

/ 05:16 AM July 05, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino teachers may be among the most dedicated in the world, but no amount of commitment could have prepared most of them for the Department of Education’s (DepEd) unexpected and rushed effort to transition from a classroom setting to a “blended learning’’ environment by Aug. 24, amid a pandemic that makes face-to-face interactions a health risk.

A recent Senate hearing revealed that only 40 percent of public school teachers so far had been trained by the DepEd on distance learning. The wide gap between the demands of the current crisis and the state of preparedness among our educators thus became apparent.

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It’s a gap that JOLT Philippines (JOLT.PH), or “Just One Little Thing,” hopes to fill through the virtual classroom VolunTeaching.PH.

A nonprofit organization, JOLT.PH manages VolunTeaching.PH and offers a course catalog that ranges from basic Math, Science and English to more pithy topics like “The Nature of Happiness.”

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For 300 Filipino teachers who recently earned slots in the program, JOLT offered a scholarship worth a total of P1 million that allowed them to enroll in courses that would certify them as qualified online educators.

“Teachers may be willing to teach remotely but do not have the proper training to transition from on-site to online pedagogy,” JOLT founder Raphael Pangalangan told the Inquirer. “The initiative closes the gap between the school and the scholar by equipping educators with the tools to teach online,” he added.

The scholarship gives 300 teachers a chance to enroll online for free in courses offered by two top institutions: the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia and the University of the Philippines-Open University (UPOU).

Volunteer teachers who finish UNSW’s Learning to Teach Online (LTTO) course will receive their certificate for free instead of paying the customary $60 (about P3,000) for it.

Earning the certificate is crucial, UNSW said, because it “gives parents and students in the Philippines the confidence to entrust their children to volunteer teachers, knowing their accreditation had been validated.”

After completing the digital courses, the teachers are now qualified to record their own videos for the VolunTeaching virtual classroom, where they are given wide latitude in choosing their subjects.

Radical departure

They will also be able to take their newfound knowledge back to their own schools.

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The LTTO course has been earning international recognition in recent years. It won the Coursera Outstanding Educator Award in 2017 and the Merlot Award in 2012. In the United States, the course was incorporated in the Obama administration’s ConnectEd program for continuing education in 2015.

The scholarships could help ease the daunting transition in the Philippines from the physical to the digital world of learning, said Simon McIntyre, associate dean of the UNSW Arts and Design school. “Ultimately it can improve the educational opportunities for students,” he added.

According to McIntyre, learning to teach online isn’t just about mastering a new software or gadget. The online learning experience is fundamentally different and requires a radical departure from traditional ways of teaching, he said.

“You can’t ‘walk into a classroom’ online like you can face-to-face and deliver a four-hour class in one hit, because people learn more effectively online in smaller, focused blocks of time spread over the week,” McIntyre said.

“So rather than the ‘stand and deliver’ sort of model, it’s more about understanding how to create an active online learning community that empowers students to explore,” he added.

Virtual classroom

VolunTeaching operations head Cholo Puno said 300 volunteer teachers in the country were chosen in late May after a competitive application process. Their four-week JOLT.PH courses are ongoing.

Their only requirement upon finishing the UNSW LTTO course and UPOU Massive Open Distance e-Learning courses is to contribute to the group’s virtual classroom.

The virtual classroom—free for anyone interested—could provide an alternative to millions of students who are at risk of being left out of the formal education process this year.

The latest DepEd figures showed that 18.1 million have enrolled so far, about 10 million less than in 2019.

Though the minds behind VolunTeaching have mechanisms to ensure that videos posted by teachers are appropriate for students, they do not dictate content. And while the focus is on high school, they are hoping to expand their offerings for everyone in the K-12 system.

Pangalangan said that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, there had been technology and learning gaps between students in rural areas and their urban counterparts.

But Puno said the health crisis could, at the very least, force a rethinking of the country’s education system.

“In many ways, quarantine life has broken the traditional on-site paradigms,” he said. “It is our hope that, in this sense, the chaos of COVID-19 could be a catalyst for change. Through online education, learning opportunities can be made more accessible.”

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TAGS: blended learning, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus Philippines, distance education, JOLT Philippines
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