Zambales teachers cross rivers to deliver learning modules
BOTOLAN, ZAMBALES-—In a last-ditch effort to deliver learning modules to their 236 Aeta pupils, Bryan Jester Balmeo and 13 of his fellow teachers crossed rivers while riding a wooden sled pulled by a carabao to reach the Poonbato Integrated School here on Sunday.
The school serves as the pick-up point for the learning modules, which the parents will get and bring home for their children to study and return with outputs within two weeks.
“Our biggest struggle is communication. Providing online teaching is not an option due to the lack of signal and internet connections.” Balmeo, headteacher of the Poonbato Integrated School, told the Inquirer.
Some teachers have to travel for at least eight hours to reach the school at the foot of Mt. Pinatubo. Another hurdle that they face is guiding parents who are mostly illiterate and cannot help their children to study at home.
“What we do is produce self-learning materials that can really encourage independent learning among our students,” Balmeo said.
As of October, 2.77 million students have registered in private and public schools in Central Luzon for the new school year, the Department of Education (DepEd) in the region said.
Of these learners, 2.39 million or 87.59 percent were enrolled in public schools, 333,046 or 12.19 percent in private schools, and 6,012 or .22 percent in state universities and colleges.
“We are more than ready to respond to the challenges of the new normal education through the implementation of the regional learning continuity plan,” Nicolas Capulong, DepEd regional director, said during an online press briefing on Oct. 2.
In Aurora province, online learning cannot be done as most students live in the mountain villages, according to Rhoda Dizon, DepEd assistant regional director.
Demand for tablets
In Angeles City, only 2,000 of 55,000 tablets bought by the city government have been delivered before the Oct. 5 school opening. The 55,000 tablets are meant for Grades 4 to 12 students in 53 public schools in the city. Each tablet costs P3,360.
“I am asking for the understanding of parents and teachers. Since there is a high demand for tablets, this is the earliest we could deliver the laptops we ordered,” said Mayor Carmelo Lazatin Jr.
In Bulacan province, a blended modality of distance learning or a combination of modules, online and television-based instruction will be adopted by most of its 530,000 elementary and high schools.
At least 25,172 students from private schools in Bulacan had moved to public schools, the highest number of transferees among provinces in Central Luzon. Bulacan was followed by Nueva Ecija with 6,621 transferees, Pampanga, 4,878, and Tarlac, 4,428.
More than 600 private schools in Bulacan have also ceased operations because of the pandemic.
In Baguio City, some teachers said preparations for the school opening under a pandemic have not all been smooth, and parents and guardians will need to spend time researching and refreshing old lessons learned.
“Most assignments or homework are given to students without prior lessons or background. So we, parents and guardians, have to do the research for our children who don’t know what the homework is all about,” said Luchie, whose son is enrolled in Grade 4.
But the start of school during quarantine has been traumatic for principals, teachers, and school staff.
Officials said they had been unable to contact some pupils or their parents about printout lesson modules for the first week of school because most of them had enlisted using fake contact numbers and even invented names.
An official said she had to clean up the list which included registrations filed by likely pranksters who identified themselves as “‘qwertyuiop,” “1234567890,” “hotdog,” and “asdfghjkl”
“We can say it’s really a new experience for us preparing for distance learning,” she said.
Many schools raised issues on no-contact education for the new school year but these had been dismissed because of poor internet access and connection.
Some teachers also asked for better options at delivering modules to reduce the risk when parents were made to fetch them each week from school.
A teacher said support was essential for online classroom activities. “The agency initially said they have no guidelines about telephone and internet load for us. They could not work out of the box. Teachers are allowed to work from home but how can they do that with no internet or telephone load?” she said.
She added: “If a teacher handles five sections, that’s around 270-300 parents you are going to contact. And you contact them two to three times a week. No load? No guidelines? No common sense.”
Some schools also considered farming out internet funds but the P5,600-monthly allotment would be “too small” for a staff of 50 teachers.
Most schools were left on their own and had to work out the money for replicating the modules after a DepEd survey showed that most pupils in Cordillera preferred hard copies instead of downloading these from the internet.
Zoom and Google Meet
In Zamboanga City, learners miss their schools, the classmates, the campus noise, the outdoor activities, the competition, and socialization with fellow learners, which they said COVID-19 had stolen from them.
“(Our) school life is dead, we are now glued to printed documents and screens, we log in, say hi, listen to teachers on webinars, interact in erratic connectivity and its done, log off,” said Renevieve Andaya, 17, a senior high school student in one of the public schools here.
Andaya worried how she would fare in the new mode of learning. “For safety reasons, we have to stay home. I gained weight, perhaps my weight will double, triple, once face to face learning would open,” she said.
Another student who wanted to be called only as KJ said it would be easy to get good grades with his self-learning modules.
“The key is access to online, answers are already there, you just need to explore the web,” said the student.
“(The absent of face-to-face interaction) will allow us to be graded according to our academic performance, no more pabibo with teachers, and it is really a comfort, you can attend classes while in bed,” he said.
Roy Tuballa, the city school district superintendent, said Zoom and Google Meet had become their new mode of communication with learners. “We also explore chat apps like Messenger and Facebook to reach out and hand out instructions,” he said.
But he clarified that the new normal would not be all online. “There are some parents who want modules sent digitally,” he said. “A number of parents and learners prefer printed modules. Radio and television are supplemental modes of learning.”
Over 200 schools from kindergarten to senior high schools would open in Zamboanga City on October 5, but Tuballa said pregnant teachers and those above 60 years old and those with comorbidities would be required to stay home.
Costly mobile phones
In Quezon province, Carmencita Tesalona, a long-time Grade 1 public school teacher in Mulanay town in Bondoc Peninsula district, is nervous about the school opening like a first-time educator.
“Since I’m teaching Grade 1, it is easier to handle school kids if we’re face to face, especially during their reading lesson. But it will be different this time,” Tesalona said in an online interview from her town, some 271 kilometers south of Metro Manila.
She said she has already distributed self-learning modules to the parents of her students.
“The kids now have materials for them to study and learn even if we’re not around,” Tesalona, a teacher for 22 years, said.
She expected to receive phone calls or text messages from the parents of her students about the modules.
“Though we’re maintaining distance due to the pandemic, I’m always ready to help the parents. We have to keep our close bonds together for the sake of the students during this new normal mode of learning,” she said.
Tesalona, whose school is located at the town proper, said she is lucky compared to other local teachers who are assigned in far-flung areas without mobile phone signals.
“Some of them also don’t have a laptop computer to use,” she lamented.
Liezl Dala Dagos, a Grade V public school teacher in Lucena City, has to buy her own laptop on installment in order to meet the challenge of a modular style of teaching.
Dagos was all praise to the parents of her students. “They are all very supportive. They are always ready to contact me online and through cellular phones for follow-ups about the modules and their other concerns,” Dagos said.
A single mother in Lucena City complained that sending her four children to school – two elementary and two high school – under the new normal mode of education is more difficult and costly.
The mother who is into selling food items in their neighborhood said she was forced to borrow P15,000 from her “Bumbay” (Indian) friend, a motorcycle-riding moneylender who charges 20-percent interest per month on loans.
“I bought two mobile phones for their use. And those teachers even want each of my children should have their own unit. But where will I get the money to buy them all?” said the mother who asked to remain unnamed.
“Even if they don’t need the daily school allowance since they will be studying at home, the daily data expenses for their phones will surely be costly,” she said.
REPORTS FROM JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT, DELFIN MALLARI JR., TONETTE OREJAS, CARMELA REYES-ESTROPE, JULIE ALIPALA AND VINCENT CABREZA INQ
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