Laguna (CNN Philippines Life) — Education is one of the many sectors that the pandemic has heavily affected on a global scale. In the Philippines, schools have been forced to rethink evaluation procedures for the recently concluded semester, with some giving passing marks for all students while others opted to defer their grades. Plans on how the next semesters will be implemented remain unresolved, but online learning, both partial and full, continues to be the most considered option as it allows for the practice of social distancing. Several groups have expressed disapproval of this option, however, asserting how this set-up would frame education as a privilege that many Filipinos will not be able to reach due to a lack of meaningful internet access. Some are also pushing for an “academic freeze,” which is said to be the least discriminating option for Filipino students given the current situation.
“With this pandemic, schools and educators are really challenged to shift the traditional classroom online, and we understand the real concern that not all families have internet access or dedicated resources to continue this learning method for their children,” says Henry Motte-Muñoz, founder and chief executive officer of education startup Edukasyon.ph. “In this scenario, it will be critical for [the] government to work with the telcos to ensure the youth have equal opportunities to online schooling.”
A shift in educational paradigm is proven to be a necessary step to take in order for students and educators to adapt to the "new normal". The changing times have also paved the way for another trend to grow.
Learning employability from experts
Independent online courses are becoming more popular among students and young professionals alike. Last month, 28-year-old Paula Mendoza from Makati City was able to finish 20 online courses in leadership, sales, and marketing courses from the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, University of California, and 12 other universities through online education provider Coursera.
These short courses, typically completed in a matter of weeks, focus on subjects under specific industries — such as digital marketing, customer service, and accounting — and are designed for skills building and development. While some require fees prior to registration, several of these courses are made available for free.
Motte-Muñoz says that these courses are “scalable and accessible,” and “self-motivated and self-paced.” Learners are allowed to work according to their schedules and learning capacity.
“While this pandemic has been very challenging, it’s also accelerating a lot of positive trends in the education space in the Philippines.”
“In addition to being self-paced or self-instructed, and students having the choice of specific skills they want to learn for employability, online courses tend to be more affordable than traditional education — so your return on investment will be much quicker,” he adds.
Online education providers like Coursera, Udemy, FutureLearn, and Kadenze bridge some gaps in education by offering independent courses from top institutions. “Students have the opportunity to learn from top instructors in each field, and through a broader lens of each industry,” shares Motte-Muñoz.
Platforms such as Edukasyon.ph select online courses from the providers according to what students view as most helpful to their personal and professional growth, and offer insight to users in finding “the right education — including the right online one,” he adds.
When selecting online courses to offer to the Filipino audience, Motte-Muñoz shares that they take into account whether the certificate or short courses translate into employable skills; if they have good representation of what is available in the market; and if they are making it easy for students to discover online education with little to no prerequisites.
The limits of 'self-paced' online learning
Independent online learning is not exclusive to short courses lifted from established institutions. The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) also offers free online courses. Learning resources for students and educators are also archived online via DepEd Commons, maintained by the Department of Education. Motte-Muñoz also acknowledges the growing educational content on YouTube and even TikTok, as well as free live-streamed webinars across various topics and industries. “While this pandemic has been very challenging, it’s also accelerating a lot of positive trends in the education space in the [Philippines],” he says.
While online courses are “not yet at par with traditional degrees in terms of their credibility and perception of their value,” Motte-Muñoz shares that there are significant improvements in how universities credit or use them as supplemental learning. He says it will take time for families and companies to adapt in viewing online courses as a reasonable alternative for traditional learning, especially as four-year degrees are often perceived as the standard in our culture.
Online courses are not without limitations, however: lack of peer-to-peer learning and completion rates based on the student’s motivation are crucial aspects that are not covered by the courses. There is also the challenge of helping first-time online learners to adopt this new method, although schools’ promotion of online learning may largely contribute to this adjustment.
But self-paced courses, particularly for knowledge-based skills, could in fact be more effective than in-person instruction, says Motte-Muñoz, as students already have the motivation as well as the freedom to optimize their own learning.
Motte-Muñoz adds: “An important thing to note is that online courses engage learners beyond the education system — this could include out-of-school youth, people who may have lost jobs or may be transitioning careers — enabling a broader audience to benefit.”