PH lags behind in acting on remote learning problems amid pandemic
(Last of two parts)
MANILA, Philippines — When the government began to implement its distance education program in October last year, it was met with uncertainty and worry from parents, students and teachers.
The Department of Education (DepEd) offered various learning modalities and repeatedly assured everyone that “no student will be left behind,” but learners found themselves without access to quality learning materials.
Modular learning was the most accessible of all the modalities, which parents themselves preferred for their children. This involved students being taught through printed self-learning modules.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones called the modules the “backbone” of distance learning. But in just the first few days of school year 2020-2021, parents immediately noted that the modules contained errors that left them worried about the quality of education their children were getting.
Teachers conducting online classes, meanwhile, found that nearly half of their students never got a chance to show up for class due to issues with internet connection. Some of the students dropped out of school.
A learning crisis emerged, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, education advocates point out.
Liza Marie Campoamor Olegario, an education psychologist, stresses that the Philippines was never, in the first place, actually prepared for emergency remote learning.
“Filipinos are stuck in the traditional type of learning. That is among the errors I found [in the education system] even when we shifted to remote learning—it’s too traditional,” explains Olegario, a faculty member of the University of the Philippines’ College of Education.
“Students are always asked to answer quizzes, while the teacher evaluates their scores. But emergency remote learning requires more authentic activities that students can relate to,” she says.
Olegario led a recent survey to assess the implementation of distance learning in the country. She found out that learning materials in the Philippines were more teacher-centered and book-centered, as parents often believed that their children could only truly learn when they were bombarded with more activities.
In the early months of the school year, parents admitted that they sometimes accomplished the tasks assigned to their children because of the high level of difficulty and the number of activities they had to finish in a day. They lamented that the tasks were difficult even for adults with higher educational attainment.
This, Olegario says, can be easily solved if the current K to 12 curriculum was shifted to a more learner-centered design, in which lessons and activities are weaved into the daily lives of students.
“The curriculum is too focused on the topics rather than the learners. It is too shallow, and that does not give students a meaningful learning experience,” she explains.
Diosdado San Antonio, education undersecretary for curriculum and instruction, acknowledges that traditional learning was one of the flaws of the Philippine education system.
“Traditional mindsets take time to change. It’s also part of the perceptions and perhaps even the culture of our country where some parents may question sudden changes,” San Antonio told the Inquirer.
San Antonio, who is at the forefront of the DepEd’s Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan, argues that the agency had already reduced the more than 15,000 learning competencies to less than 10 per quarter on every grade level.
If the old curriculum was used at present, then it would be impossible for students to actually learn what is needed at their age, he says.
“We really agreed that there’s a need to make sure that pedagogy is learner-centered, and we try very hard to do this even in the distance learning delivery modalities,” San Antonio says.
Last December, the DepEd proposed the pilot implementation of limited in-person classes in areas classified as low-risk to respond to the challenges of distance education. Secretary Briones claimed that the Philippines was “the only country in Southeast Asia” that had not reopened schools amid the pandemic.
Ironically, however, the country is also behind in creating its “emergency remote learning kit” that would have helped bridge the gaps of the distance education program.
Olegario explains that an emergency remote learning kit consists of concrete changes in policies and program implementation that could save a nation’s “lost generation,” or the children left behind in learning who may not see enough employment opportunities in the future.
Forming the kit would involve the establishment of an effective and efficient communication system between education stakeholders and the DepEd by providing poor families with mobile phones and internet subsidies.
This was among the most common hurdles that the education sector had to face in emergency remote learning, even as early as enrollment period last year when millions of parents decided to stop their children’s studies.
“Connectivity is important because if students are socially connected, … they can be collaborative with their classmates, they can learn to be with one another and develop the needed 21st-century skills,” Olegario says.
A 2020 report on global education response to the COVID-19 pandemic conducted by researchers from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that Georgia’s Ministry of Education began providing alternative learning options for public school students as early as March 2020.
The Georgian government created virtual classrooms for all school classes and subjects, as well as virtual consulting spaces for all districts of Georgia.
In Italy, the government provided free remote training for teachers and technical assistance to schools, on top of introducing “forms of economic support for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.”
Olegario says the DepEd also needed to make learning more accessible to students by making use of existing textbooks, which would limit printing needs and distribution activities done mostly by teachers. “What needs to be provided are activity sheets that contain tasks that are authentic and collaborative in nature,” she says.
One of the root causes of these problems in the system is the government’s poor investment in quality education, says Love Basillote, the executive director of Philippine Business for Education.
Results of the 2019 Southeast Asia-Primary Learning Metrics (SEA-PLM) showed that Filipino pupils in Grade 5 lagged behind five neighboring countries in reading, mathematical and writing literacy.
To begin with, Basillote says, millions of learners already did not have access to adequate learning materials, which was proven in the 2019 SEA-PLM.
The study, which was conducted by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund in February 2019, showed that some 20 percent of Grade 5 pupils in the Philippines shared textbooks in reading and mathematics, and some textbooks were shared by more than two learners.
Children studying in larger institutions, where they were provided with one textbook each, performed significantly better than children in smaller, less well-resourced schools.
“Education is long-term … We say that there should be a sense of urgency because the impacts or implications are long, and the problem is really at such a low point that it cannot wait. We need to address the issue and the learning crisis,” Basillote says.
While there have been efforts to stem the learning crisis, she points at several “low-hanging fruits” that could be immediately reached but are not given enough attention, such as providing conducive learning spaces for students and correcting errors in learning materials.
But even if the government acted with more urgency now, Basillote says concrete results can only be felt in 20 to 30 years, when the younger generation becomes part of the workforce.
“It could really go bad if we don’t act now. But if we do something now and we all work together to get there, we muster up all the resources we have, … I think we can definitely stem this learning crisis or stop and reverse the trends in learning,” Basillote surmises.
“They always say that it takes a village to raise a child. For education, you can also say that it will take the whole of the Philippines to address the learning crisis,” she says.
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