After two years of online classes, students consider going back to school

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Students weigh in on the debate between the face-to-face and remote learning setup. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Imagine locking yourself up in your room for a focused study session. But instead of this session lasting a few hours, you’re stuck at your desk for a year, desperately trying to make sense of your take-home modules and a glitchy video of your teacher by yourself.

It came as no surprise then that students all across the country clamored for a return to face-to-face classes, after 583 days of studying at home, with countless learners struggling to adapt to remote learning. The government has since heeded the call, and plans to reopen face-to-face classes this November 15 in 59 public schools, and in 181 colleges and universities.

Since the announcement, critics and supporters have been debating this move, weighing the need for a safe return to schooling vis à vis the risk of spreading COVID-19 among vulnerable students. But the voices missing in this national debate are the students themselves. Here are some of them who express their thoughts about the return to face-to-face classes.

Michaela Corinne Ayuro, 10 years old, Grade 5 student

For Grade 5 student Michico, online school has soured her relationship with math.

“Online school is harder than face-to-face,” she says. “It’s just when I’m in face-to-face school, for some reason, I find math easy. It’s okay. But when I’m in online school, math is hard.”

When asked why, she adds after some thought, “I find it hard to ask questions.”

Michico shares that their tests have been converted to performance tasks, which she finds hard to do on digital platforms such as MS Teams. But for the most part, she’s found things to be happy about.

“I like it that there’s no tests; we don’t have tests in [school] because it’s online. I’m okay. I’m talking to my friends, I’m playing games with them [online].”

For her, she would be fine with returning to face-to-face classes as long as the teachers and students are vaccinated. She hopes that the new school year would not be as hard, where she won’t have to often ask her parents for help — especially with stressful math problems.

Lady Jhumyra Taha, 13 years old, Grade 8 student

One thing Lady misses about school is her classmates. It’s been almost two years since she last saw them in person.

“Masaya po kasi kapag nakakalabas ka papuntang school, and makikita mo yung mga friends mo. Grade 6 [ko po huling nakita mga kaibigan ko],” she shares. Lady is now in Grade 8.

She actually agrees with the fears of COVID-19 spreading through face-to-face classes, but if there’s one thing Lady is sure of, it’s that remote learning is really difficult.

“[Pinakamahirap po] ‘yung pagintindi sa teacher kasi po mahirap po talaga pag online. Mas madali po kapag kaharap mo yung nagsasalita o nagpapaliwanag,” she says, adding that even her classmates are having difficulties understanding lessons via online.

They’ve since started classes again, but she hopes that someday, things can go back to the way they were before the pandemic. In the meantime, she hopes that the government can provide free gadgets, load, or Wi-fi as she faces yet another year of seeing her friends through the screen.

Daña Marie Buyo, 18 years old, first year entrepreneurship student

It’s Daña’s first day of college, and yet she’s experiencing it all online.

During her last year of senior high, she went through the modular setup. This meant going back and forth to pick up modules and answering them on her own at home. And while she found it easy to go through the process and the guides, what was difficult was the lack of feedback.

“Mahirap pong matuto gamit yung modular kasi po wala pong nage-explain tungkol dun sa mga lessons... Kapag po nagtatanong kami sa mga teachers tungkol sa lesson, di po nila masyadong nasasagot. Magulo rin po sila kausap [kasi] through chat lang po.”

So what Daña and her classmates did was to instead help and ask each other, but then this meant they only had their collective knowledge to rely on. Even research was difficult to plan online.

Daña shares that her older brother started college classes before her, and she observed that it really is a challenge. She admits she is still clueless about her current course, and hopes that she can learn more through the college experience — complete with amazing professors, and experiences inside and outside campus.

“Sang-ayon po ako sa face-to-face kasi po mas nae-explain lesson, tsaka po mas maa-apply na po namin sa buhay namin na magagamit kapag nagtrabaho po kami. Di naman po siya nakakatakot kung nagiingat po tayo, kung vaccinated na po tayo.”

Sonrisa Prada, 20 years old, second year nursing student

As a Nursing student, Sonrisa’s dream of getting hands-on hospital experience has been replaced by online classes on Blackboard.

“Especially with my course, which is a skill based program, it really is hard to cope with the online setup since we don’t really get the same experiences and opportunities as those who were able to actually conduct their duties or return demonstration with real people in a hospital or lab setup,” she says.

While she says that she is learning, she feels those are not enough for her to say she is competent and confident enough to apply what she’s learned. She also agrees with the return to face-to-face classes for areas with low COVID-19 cases, provided that students, teachers, and staff are vaccinated.

As a student in the health sector, Sonrisa proposes blended learning. She says, “If ako masusunod, of course I would like to have a school year that’s not fully online and not fully face-to-face, with this situation we should try to implement blended learning. Like we will still have our lecture classes in an online setup, but of course our lab and skills classes should be conducted in a face-to-face setup.”

Taking the pragmatic route, Sonrisa reminds others of the balance that needs to be maintained between education and health. “We should still consider the situation we are in right now, and to be honest it will take a longer time for us to recover and it will surely take a huge toll on those students who aim for a skill-based profession.”

Jhenalyn Orque, 20 years old, third year business administration student

Jhenalyn is almost done with college, and she’s afraid that she won’t get to experience a real on-the-job training (OJT) like other business administration juniors and seniors did pre-pandemic.

“Kasi third year na po ako. Ngayon po may business research po kami na subjects, so mahihirapan po kami gawin yun kung sa Google lang po kami hahanap ng [review of related literature]. Tapos kapag nag-OJT naman po kami sa fourth year, mas gusto ko po talaga na mag-OJT kami sa mismong field po talaga or sa mismong business,” she says.

Jhenalyn had her fair share of difficulties with her blended online and modular setup as well, such as professors that don’t teach online and instead send videos, or professors that send modules and leave them to self-study. She really wants to return to face-to-face classes, because then students and their well-being will be given more attention.

“Kasi yung face-to-face dati, kunwari po yung mga pinapa-activity sa amin, isa lang kada araw o kaya minsan lang po sila magbigay. Pero ngayong online class po, dumoble po 'yun hanggang sa naiipon yung mga activities. Nagb-breakdown na po kami,” she says.

In fact, Jhenalyn recounts that many students have already dropped out and are now out-of-school youth.

“Mas magkakaroon po ng interest ‘yung mga kabataan na mas mag-aral po nang mabuti. Kasi po ngayong online class po, talaga pong bumaba po 'yung mga bilang ng mga estudyante na nag-aaral po ngayon, kasi pinili po nilang huminto kasi wala din naman daw pong natututunan, or wala pong gamit na gadgets or pangload, o kaya po sobrang nahihirapan po,” she says.

Jhenalyn proposes that aside from full vaccination for those in face-to-face classes, schools should establish other safety rules such as dividing students going to school by shifts, and enforcing wide social distancing. She prays that face-to-face classes will truly roll out, so that those who dropped out can have a shot at education again.