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

/ 05:26 PM July 23, 2020

Artwork by Marie Faro

Second of a series

“Ang question ay handa ba ang DepEd? Ang DepEd ay handa na.” (The question is, is DepEd ready? DepEd is indeed ready).

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These were the words of Education Secretary Leonor Briones during the “Tatak ng Pagbabago 2020” pre-State of the Nation Address forum last July 14, where she declared with confidence the department’s readiness for the opening of classes on Aug. 24.

Addressing critics, Briones said DepEd put blended learning to the test through “a very successful simulation” in Navotas City which involved the cooperation and “full support” of the local government unit, parents, and students from kindergarten to college.

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Yet as DepEd attests to its own readiness, elsewhere, in Rizal province, a mother cannot say the same.

“Hindi [kami] handa,” she said, speaking to Inquirer on condition of anonymity. “Kahit naman sino, sa tingin ko, hindi handa [ngayong] pasukan lalo’t karamihan nawalan ng trabaho. Imbes na ipambili mo ng kakailanganin ng anak mo, mas uunahin [natin] ang pagkain nila.”

(We are not ready. I think anyone can say they are not ready for the school year, especially since a lot of people lost their jobs. Instead of buying the other needs of your children, we would still have to prioritize their food)

The mother was one of nearly 100,000 Filipinos who were laid off from January to June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw her go from earning minimum wage at a call center in Pasig to being jobless and sinking deeper into debt.

She has since been sidelining as an online seller, hawking face shields, clothes, candies, soaps and other sundries on Facebook, but admitted this hardly brings any money in due to the number of people who have likewise turned to online selling to make ends meet.

Her husband, a tricycle driver, was also down on his luck. He had lost out on two months’ worth of earnings during the enhanced community quarantine and is currently on the waiting list of beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Social Amelioration Program.

“Nagsusumikap, kung anu-anong raket papasukan. Kailangan maging malusog kaso [paano] magiging malusog kung hindi sapat ang pagkain? Walang pambili ng vitamins?” she said.

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(We are trying, getting into different sideline jobs. You need to be healthy, but how can you be healthy when there is not enough food on the table? When you don’t have money to buy vitamins?)

Now with the opening of classes just around the corner and her household in a precarious condition, she has found herself restless and worrying for her three children. They will be starting Grade 7, Grade 1 and Kinder in a public school this incoming school year, but have no laptop to use for online distance learning. They also do not have a steady Wi-Fi connection and rely only on data promos to access the internet.

“Gustuhin ko man wag i-enroll, sayang din ang taon. Kaso maiisip mo, may matututunan ba mga bata?” she said.

(As much as I don’t want to enroll them, it would be a waste of a year. But you do wonder, will the children learn anything?)

“May ginagamit akong [cellphone], pero tatlo anak ko. [Paano] nila gagamitin ang isang cellphone [sa pag-aaral] lalo na at sa [cellphone] ako kumukuha ng pagkakabuhayan ngayon?” she added.

(I use a cellphone, but I have three children. How will they use one cellphone [for learning] when it’s what I use to earn a living?)

She also expressed doubts over modular distance learning, which Briones has offered as an alternative option for students who do not have gadgets or access to the internet. In fact, in a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte last July 15, Briones said people should employ their own “diskarte” when it comes to blended learning.

“Kaniya-kaniyang diskarte, kaniya-kaniyang adjust depende kung anong available na paraan,” said Briones. “Pero ang bottomline, patuloy ang pag-aaral ng mga bata at malaki ang papel ng pag-recover ng economy sa patuloy na pag-aaral ng mga bata.”

(To each his own in finding ways, to each his own in adjusting depending on what means are available. But the bottomline is the children should continue learning and economic recovery plays a big role in continued education of children.)

In modular distance learning, the learning materials or self-learning modules will either be delivered to the students’ homes or picked up at a school’s “Teletindahan.” According to DepEd’s Basic Education Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP), modular learning will require family members or community stakeholders to serve as the students’ “para-teachers.”

This seems like a tall order, however, for someone who has three children — and an even bigger challenge for those who have more.

Her children’s education and learning, once facilitated through the efforts of different grade-level and subject teachers at school, would now have to be her sole responsibility.

“Kaya tingin ko hindi pa rin [maganda] mag-aral [ngayon] mga bata,” she said. “Kahit sabihin mong sa bahay, wala silang masyadong matututunan, hindi sila makakapag-focus sa pag-aaral.”

(I still think it is not good for children to study right now. Even if you say they are at home, they won’t learn much, they won’t be able to focus on their learning).

Quality education during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought forth the necessity of a safe, quality and intersectional educational plan that would cater to the needs of all Filipino students — and not just the few and able. But with just a little over a month left before the opening of classes, it appears uncertain whether readiness is real for everyone.

Raymond Basilio, secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, the largest public school teachers’ union in the Philippines, has been skeptical of the DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan.

In an interview with Inquirer, Basilio said he believes the proposed blended learning is “bound to fail.”

Basilio also criticized the DepEd’s readiness claim in a statement last July 16, saying the modular learning simulations in Navotas City required a weekly online session between teachers and students, and teachers and parents.

“What about those whose parents are both working? Or those with parent/s at home, but have to tend to other needs of the house, including other children?” said Basilio in the statement. “We have many learners here in urban areas who don’t have a single cellphone, much less a computer and internet access, in their households or if they did, it’s used by the parent/s who are working during class hours.”

Basilio told Inquirer that the teaching population in the Philippines is growing old and trained in learning inside the classroom.

Teachers have also been troubled by their lack of appropriate gadgets and steady internet connection to attend web seminars and that would allow them to facilitate and ensure the delivery of quality education through online distance learning.

There appears to be a twinge of righteous indignation in Basilio, who called this insulting, as it seems it has only made palpable the already-existing gap between the rich and the poor.

“Nakakainsulto sa part namin kasi parang pinagmumukha lang na yung edukasyon ay parang pagbili lang ng candy sa tindahan, that without the money, you can’t get the candy,” he told Inquirer.

(It’s insulting on our part because they are making it look as if education is as simple as buying candy from a store, that without the money you can’t get the candy).

He had wondered what kind of education a child would have through online distance learning, where there would be no room for discussions — granted, if the child has the gadget and internet connection to make online learning possible in the first place.

“Paano po yung pagkatuto ng mga bata?” he asked. (What about the learning of the children?)

This seems more worrying in modular distance learning, according to Basilio, since the student’s learning would depend on the support they would receive from their environment.

“Ibabagsak lang ng teacher yung module, so bahala na yung magulang, si ate, si kuya, kung paano tutulungan yung bata na matuto,” he said. “Again, the question is, alam ba ng magulang, alam ba ni ate, ni kuya, kung paano i-explain yung mga laman ng modules? May oras ba sila para i-explain ito?”

(The teacher would just give the module and it’s up to the parents, the older sister or brother, on how they will help the child learn. Again, the question is, do the parents know? Does the older sister or brother know how to explain the contents of the module? Do they even have time to explain these?)

Other ways

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has pushed for the implementation of a “temporary non-formal adaptive learning program” by the end of June. Unlike the DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan, the adaptive learning program’s “non-formal nature” would have more leeway when it comes to restrictions set by the requirements in a formal school year.

Basilio told Inquirer that ACT’s proposal removes the graded portion of the academic year, saying there will clearly be students who will be left behind if they were graded in a modality like the blended learning.

Education cannot stop even during the pandemic — Basilio fully agrees with this — but it should not be delivered in a way that would create stress and dilemma for students.

“Wag nating gawing stressful yung delivery nito, in a way na… may maiiwanan, may mga bata na hindi makakapag-enroll,” he said. “Tsaka [andiyan] yung dilemma ng parents na nas-stress yung mga anak nila kasi pag hindi ako nakapag-enroll, hindi ko nagawa yung mga modules, hindi ako g-graduate, hindi ako map-promote sa next year level.”

(Let’s not make the delivery of education stressful and in a way… wherein children will be left behind, they won’t get to enroll. There is also the dilemma of the parents since their children will be stressed if they don’t get to enroll, if they don’t get to work on the modules, they won’t be able to graduate, they won’t be promoted in the next year level).

Thus far, around 20.2 million students have enrolled in both public and private schools as of July 15, which is 7.8 million short of DepEd’s 28 million target for the 2020-21 school year. More than 300,000 students from private schools have also transferred to public schools. In 2019, 27.7 million learners were enrolled in both public and private schools.

This non-formal adaptive program, according to Basilio, is a “survival education curriculum” that would be focused on teaching students how to survive the pandemic and help their parents and community. There would still be modules in place, he clarified, but the modules would put into context and take into account the different needs and circumstances of the students in their communities.

“Totoo bang ma-e-engage natin yung mga bata sa strict formal learning mechanisms sa panahon ng pandemic? Kasi sa totoo lang po yung mga bata ang interes nila ngayon, tumulong sa mga magulang nila para maka-survive yung family nila dito sa krisis na kinakaharap natin.”

(Is it true that we can engage our children in strict formal learning mechanisms during the pandemic? To be honest, children right now are more interested in helping their parents so the family can survive this crisis we are facing).

Putting in operation this non-formal adaptive program would entail a lot of work, but even so, it would involve community consultations with their stakeholders, which Basilio said ACT is currently doing. By consulting with communities, they will be able to ask crucial questions, such as, what are the interests of the children in this certain community? What are their needs in this community? These would help determine what the module in its proper context would comprise.

Basilio also said ACT is willing to engage in a dialogue with DepEd and discuss their proposal, noting he has reached out to the agency several times regarding this.

In a recent update to Inquirer, however, Basilio said DepEd still has not given them a response.

Dynamic Learning Program, another alternative?

The Central Visayas Institute Foundation’s Dynamic Learning Program (DLP), which has been dubbed as a “COVID-resilient form of independent learning”, also seems like a promising learning program for Filipino students and teachers during the pandemic.

The DLP is a teaching method developed by physicists and married couple Dr. Christopher Bernido and Dr. Victoria Carpio-Bernido in 2002. The Bernidos received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for the program in 2010.

Traditionally, in classrooms, a teacher lectures for most of the time while students participate through tests, quizzes and recitation. The DLP, however, comprises four components: parallel learning, activity-based learning, a student comprehensive portfolio, and strategic study and rest. At its core, parallel learning cuts down a teacher’s lesson to only 15 to 20 minutes. A lecture, thus, only takes up 20 percent of the time, while the remaining 80 percent is allotted for students to answer learning activity sheets based on the lesson.

According to the DLP, students are required to write all of their lessons down on paper as habit-formation, since writing helps in better retention. The DLP thus can be adopted at home or at school, with or without internet connection and gadgets.

The DLP has been implemented before in public high schools in Cagayan de Oro after tropical storm Sendong in 2011 left some teachers unable to go back to school immediately due to flooding. Since the DLP is process-induced and requires minimal teacher intervention, students in high schools were still able to learn on their own through the activity sheets.

As uncertainties about class opening amid the pandemic mount for Filipino students and teachers, the DLP and its low-budget method can perhaps be considered as a feasible alternative for learning in the new normal.

Safety, above all

The safety of teachers and students for the incoming school year has been the foremost concern of ACT and is what Basilio believes DepEd should focus on.

Comprehensive health measures are needed to ensure teachers and students are safe, especially if some teachers would be required to go to communities to deliver and pick up their students’ modules, he told Inquirer.

It is also stated under the modular distance learning in DepEd’s Learning Continuity Plan that teachers should do home visits where possible to students in need of assistance or remediation.

But public school teachers do not have hazard pay. And this, for Basilio, is what’s painful.

Administrative Order No. 26, which was approved by Duterte last March, only grants hazard pay to government personnel who physically report for work during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ). Civil Service Commission (CSC) commissioner Aileen Lizada clarified last May 29 that government workers are no longer entitled to hazard pay during the general community quarantine (GCQ).

Teachers, too, are not afforded sick leaves which, with or without the COVID-19 pandemic, has been one of ACT’s consistent calls to the government. Assistant House Minority Leader France Castro had urged Congress last June to swiftly take action on Castro’s House Bill 5349 or An Act Providing Sick Leave Benefits of Thirty Days per year for Public School Teachers, which is needed now more than ever by teachers during the pandemic.

Basilio also underscored the need for mass testing for education workers, especially those who are symptomatic, asymptomatic but with exposure to patients with COVID-19, and the vulnerable such as seniors and pregnant teachers. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and hygiene kits, as well, must be provided to teachers before the opening of classes.

“Sana gastusan naman po natin ‘yung pangangailanan ng mga teachers natin sa mga ganitong bagay,” hoped Basilio. (I hope we could spend for the needs of our teachers when it comes to these things).

Without all of these, the safety of teachers and students merely remains in the ether.

PART 1: Uncertainties grip new normal in learning

—WITH REPORTS FROM JOVIC YEE, MARLON RAMOS, JODEE AGONCILLO, KRISSY AGUILAR, BONG LOZADA, JULIE M. AURELIO, MATTHEW REYSIO-CRUZ, CEBU DAILY NEWS

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TAGS: Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Coronavirus, COVID-19, Department of Education, dynamic learning program, new normal, Public School Teachers
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