Education in time of a pandemic: What students and teachers are in for this coming school year

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 20) — Over 21 million kinder to high school students have enrolled for the coming school year.

Authorities are considering proposals to allow limited face-to-face classes in low risk areas. But for the most part, classrooms will remain empty due to safety concerns.

“There will be no face-to-face classes and sessions until we are assured of the safety of our children and teachers,” Education secretary Leonor Briones said on May 28.

Instead of physical classes, the Department of Education will implement distance or remote learning.

This method delivers lessons through various ways, including online, television, radio, and printed materials.

Colleges and universities are also shifting to distance learning, affecting over three million higher education students.

The new set up is drawing mixed reactions from students.

“Matututo naman po kami kung focus kami sa ginagawa namin,” senior high school student Sittie Macunte tells CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We will learn as long as we focus on what we're doing.]

Junior high schooler Aaron Matsui, however, prefers the traditional classroom set up.

“Sumasagot po ako lagi. Tapos dito po sa bahay to be honest, laro lang po ako nang laro,” he explains.

[Translation: I always answer. But at home, to be honest, all I do is play.]

Some youth groups are urging officials to defer the school opening, noting that thousands of students lack access to the internet.

“DepEd and CHED literally have students begging for money online just so they don’t get left behind with their academics, which is simply unacceptable considering the situation we are in,” the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan spokesman John Lazaro said in a statement.

Parents worry about extra expense

For some parents, distance learning seems impractical as it could mean spending more time and money on their children’s education.

They worry about online requirements, and having to pay for internet regularly.

Sari-sari store owner Rowena Matsui is one of them. She has two sons in high school.

“Eh paano kung halimbawa every day yung mga anak ko? Mabigat para sa amin,” Matsui said.

[Translation: What if my children go every day? That will be difficult for us.]

In private schools, parents are demanding lower tuition since students will be studying from home.

However, the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Institutions or COCOPEA says recurring costs cannot be waved, particularly maintenance fees.

“We are now at this crossroads where we don’t know whether we will invest on flexible learning and make that permanent or we still need to maintain our physical facilities for our accredited and permit status,” COCOPEA managing director Noel Estrada explained during a meeting of the House Committee on Basic Education and Higher Education last July 9.

Education officials have set up web-based platforms where stakeholders can share learning materials.

For kinder to high school students, there is the DepEd Commons, which can be accessed free of data charges through a partnership between the DepEd and telcos.

The Commission on Higher Education, meantime, is developing the PHL Connect website.

It contains text, audio, video, and other digital content that can be used for teaching and research.

“No ifs, no buts, learning must continue. We learn as one, we are ready,” CHED chairman Popoy De Vera declared during a press conference on July 10.

Remote learning means more work for teachers

Teachers believe distance learning will require making the extra effort to reach students.

Elementary school teacher Jenny Yabut says some students have no way of communicating thru the internet.

That means printed learning materials will have to be delivered to them.

“Yung module na gagamitin ng mga bata ay libreng ipapamahagi at kung kelangan silang puntahan sa bahay gagawin po namin,” Yabut said.

[Translation: The module to be used by the children will be distributed for free and if home visits are needed, we will do it.]

They now have to create more educational content.

These should contain essential lessons but at the same time, simple enough for students to digest on their own.

“Hindi ganon kahanda ang mga teachers sa pagbabagong ito. But as a teacher, kailangan natin mag-adapt,” high school teacher Shirley Buenrostro tells CNN Philippines.

[Translation: teachers are not fully prepared for this change. But as a teacher, we have to adapt.]

Whether or not distance learning will be effective, even officials can’t say for certain. But they insist on trying to make it work rather than do nothing.