More than ever, teachers need to be a class act for DepEd TV
MANILA, Philippines — After nearly 30 years reporting from the field, this broadcast journalist and documentarist now finds himself in a reality-show-like program, with public school teachers standing in front of a camera and students serving as eager viewers.
“It’s like ‘The Voice,’ it’s like ‘Pilipinas Got Talent.’ Except that we were selecting qualified teachers through Zoom,” Abner Mercado, lately of ABS-CBN, said in an interview.
Months into the nationwide lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic that has brought industries and even the education sector to their knees, Mercado was invited to join a team of at least 15 broadcast journalists and experts tasked with training teachers to become broadcasters.
Now, along with his longtime friends in the field, Mercado watches thousands of audition videos of “talents” from all 17 regions in the country — public school teachers who are expected to have a mastery of subjects, to use “age appropriate” language, and, ultimately, to become on-camera personalities in a matter of months.
Once selected, the teachers need to undergo rigorous training preparatory to becoming the “face” of DepEd TV—as the term suggests, a television-based mode of instruction launched by the Department of Education (DepEd) in July to aid students in distance and blended learning.
According to TV host and lead trainer Paolo Bediones, the chosen teachers will be required to work full time, the DepEd having lessened their teaching loads to allow them to focus on broadcasting.
Every week, the teachers will be required to face the camera and conduct 20-minute lessons on major subjects from K to 12.
Come Oct. 5, 32 production teams composed of 107 teacher-broadcasters and 72 staff members will be able to start watching months of production finally being aired on at least 10 cable and free television channels from 7 a.m. to 6:50 p.m., Mondays to Saturdays.
The 15 experts who all volunteered for the program are individually tasked with discussing various topics, from scriptwriting to the basics of creating a television show, building self-confidence and handling bashers.
‘How to Be You Po?’
Mercado, who is never without his iconic plaid scarf or statement shawl, is on a 9-to-5 work schedule to train teachers on branding through a series of Zoom video workshops collectively called “How to Be You Po?”
“In teaching about branding, you have to explain to the teacher-broadcasters that they should have a distinguishing mark in front of the camera that will make students easily remember them,” Mercado said.
Distance learning challenges the teachers to make their lessons interesting and engaging: They cannot afford to have channels changed and TV sets turned off because a student has lost interest.
In Caloocan City, Maricar Zolayvar and her grandchildren were glued to their television screens during DepEd TV’s dry run on Sept. 21 to Sept. 25 precisely because teacher-broadcasters were able to effectively engage them in lessons on arts and livelihood education.
“My grandchildren were very interested because they were able to understand and easily follow the lessons through the teachers’ interactive storytelling and their unique way of presenting the subjects,” Zolayvar, who has three grandchildren in grade school, told the Inquirer.
But diligence and training may prove futile if a teacher folds under pressure and anxiety, and gets eaten up by the camera.
According to Bediones, he and his colleagues try to determine how much the teachers are willing to learn this craft, considering that they were “thrust into an environment that they’re absolutely unfamiliar with.”
In his more than two decades as TV host and newscaster, Bediones said his daily shows demanded a total output of 300 episodes per year.
But the teacher-broadcasters, who mostly had no background in broadcasting, were expected to produce 130 episodes, each 20 minutes long, in a week, or a whopping 520 episodes in a month—something that Bediones and the DepEd itself have called record-breaking.
“A big reset button has been pressed, and now we have a chance to change programming on television in a way that has never been done before,” Bediones said, adding:
“There’s really nothing I can do to prepare them for the pressure. There’s nothing that beats actually being in the pressure cooker to understand what it feels like.”
By January 2021, the team will have produced 220 episodes per week for all subjects, including the most essential learning competencies per grade level, said Abram Abanil, the DepEd director for information and communications technology.
But despite the long production hours that often stretched until 5 a.m., Mercado, himself a professor at the University of the Philippines, said there were teachers who still chose to stay in the pressure-filled profession.
“I always tell them to follow their hearts because that is where they will find true happiness. If being a teacher-broadcaster will give them their happiness, then they must continue the long but fulfilling journey,” he said.
Such perseverance has helped guardians like Zolayvar, who admitted that her household had no stable internet connection for online learning and that her grandchildren could rely only on self-learning modules.
Like Bediones and Mercado, she is hopeful that DepEd TV will still be in operation even after the country has met the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Children are often immersed in cartoons and glued to their gadgets. If they do not have classes, then we would very much prefer that they watch DepEd TV in case they miss any of their lessons,” Zolayvar said.
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