We should have been alarmed when covid19 deaths in China, the country of origin of the virus, started to fill the news. But our government just took it for granted. It continues with the ‘business as usual’ attitude totally downplaying the potential damage it might bring.
WHO declared it as pandemic on March 11. The government declared Luzon lockdown on March 15. Then we started to witness how ill-prepared the government was to deal with the crisis. The only defined response was the lockdown and the passing of the law granting emergency powers to the President.
The people are helpless as they wait for the promised social amelioration that is delivered in trickles.
As we restlessly count days quarantined in our homes, we witness its continued exponential spread across the globe disrupting all facets of life. The global economy stopped. Festivities canceled. Religious practices disrupted. International sports events backtracked. Cultural activities put on hold.
Education is as gravely affected.
Disruptions and impact
The country-wide closures affected 1,578,657,884 learners accounting for 90.2% of total enrolled in 191 countries.
In the Philippines, basic public schools numbering 47,013 suspended classes disrupting the lives of 22,746,855 students. Examinations suspended. Rites that mark milestones in students’ learning journeys are canceled.
DepEd encouraged home-based learning using its Deped commons platform to catch up with lessons and compensate for lost school days. But this mode is highly dependent on the internet, computers, and tablets. Imagine how students would fare when 61% of 23 million households have no internet connections. Those with wifi suffer from the endless intermittent signals. Though 60.1% of the Philippine population is online, these are mostly mobile phone users.
To date, Philippine education is still in limbo. The only thing definite is that there is no going back.
The pandemic highlights class divides and inadequacies
For so long, Philippine education is in crisis. It is reflective of the situation of society in general. The litany of shortages, inefficiency, and corruption stunted its development. And are past curriculum changes and methods even relevant to the real demands of the times?
Covid19 exposed the skew in education.
Only the middle and upper strata have access to the internet, mobile phones, laptops, and computers. During the lockdown, they continue to have access to lessons. High-paying private schools easily shifted to online-based platforms and digital tools.
The rest wallow in deprivation. These are the students of urban and rural poor: children of peasants, indigenous peoples, workers, daily wage earners, and informal settlers. Quarantined with their parents and siblings and no school day to look forward to, they just idly and anxiously wait for food rations and relief. Accessing Deped commons is the least of their concerns.
The majority of those counted in 61% of the online population are mere cellphone users. Most belong to the 61% of 23 million households and 74% of the 47,013 schools with no internet access.
Teachers’ mindset and attitude towards technology and digital tools should also be addressed. The concept of ‘teachers’ as knowledge-source no longer holds true when a world of information is just a click away. Most public school teachers do not even have laptops and computers and whose access to the online world is mostly through Facebook. They are ‘digital migrants.’ Students are ‘digital natives.’ The virtual world is an extension of the learner’s life. Students are adept and fearless in exploring the online world. Teachers are just starting to understand it.
Multi-modal approach while transitioning to online and digital tools
On a positive note, the pandemic ushered in long-time needed innovations.
Clearly, virtual learning will be the dominant mode as we continue to battle with covid19. In fact, other Asian countries like China, Singapore, and Hongkong have long started with the use of online and digital tools.
Online platforms abound and have been here even before covid19. There is google classroom, zoom, FB live, and WhatsApp. There is also TED@Home which is so rich in learning resources. Students can even access DIY videos of almost anything. Learning could just be anywhere anytime.
Internet and communications technology have been revolutionizing education. Online and digital innovations are reshaping learning modes. Physical classroom set-up will soon be a thing of the past.
We are not prepared. But we have to adapt fast.
Addressing Inequities and Gaps is Crucial to Moving Forward
As the calendar for the next school year is yet to be decided, DepEd needs to step up. The government must support the financial requirements for a radically changed landscape of Philippine education.
In this light, we put forward the following:
1. Speed up the requisites for multi-modal learning (broadcast platforms like radio and television, internet among others).
2. Build the needed infrastructure – internet connections and electrification of all schools in remote provinces.
3. Provisions for gadgets and equipment – laptops and computers, digital notebooks, and tablets.
4. Onboard the teachers asap to the new mode. Conduct massive and intensive teachers’ training on online platforms and digital tools.
5. Ensure that curriculums are relevant. Review core subjects and core competencies.
6. Develop and enhance the alternative learning system (ALS) as a venue for learning and mechanism for moving up to a higher level.
7. Encourage cooperation and partnerships among schools and local government units especially in putting up educational infrastructures.
8. Explore support and sponsorships from private corporations engaged in digital tools, internet providers, telecommunications and social media entities.
9. Engage existing organizations of all stakeholders, especially teachers, students, and parents in reshaping education.
10. The new mode requires a bigger finance allocation. Appropriations for debt payments could be realigned in favor of education as a basic social service.
In the ‘new normal’ mode, changes are occurring in the same neoliberal paradigm
Internet, digital tools and online platforms are the same platforms for cultural aggression. The virtual mode is a fertile ground for decadent attitudes to flourish. It offers information overload rather than nurture critical thinking.
Thus, we should be vigilant against individualism, competition, commercialization, corruption, and consumerism. Let us continue to teach the skills the students need in surviving this world: informed decision making, creative problem solving, and adaptability.
The mode of learning will be changed but the orientation remains the same as we persistently challenged it.
It will still be serving neoliberal ideology. This is the same paradigm that makes education consistently subservient to foreign interests and capital demands. It is always profits and markets over people and rights. Concepts of sovereignty and nationalism will continue to be diffused.
Hence, as we transition to the ‘new normal,’ the progressive section of educators should make sure that the core values we cherish and fight for remain: human and women’s rights, genuine democracy, solidarity, rule of law, social justice, environmental justice, inclusion, and equity.
Let us continue to work for scientific, nationalist, and mass-oriented education. It is always in this context that education will be for the service of the people.###
ASSERT/26 April 2020
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