POSTSCRIPT / August 18, 2020 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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No, education isn’t being reinvented

THE resetting to Oct. 5 of the Aug. 24 start of the school year may look like a grace period, a welcome relief all around, but the seven-week extension still sees everybody cramming, as Filipinos are wont to do at the last minute.

The shift from the traditional face-to-face classroom sessions to so-called “distance learning” as a consequence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic may register like education is being reinvented. No, the same thing is only being repackaged.

The core content of the curriculum on all levels, from kindergarten to senior high school in public and private schools, remains substantially the same. Only the presentation and the mode of delivery are being revised.

The usual experience within the four walls of a classroom is being replaced by what education officials call “distance learning”, something akin to working from home, making online purchases, teleconferencing, and such computer-aided innovations made possible by modern technology.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones says distance learning is delivered by three methods – through online virtual classes, on printed modules or materials, or broadcast on radio and television – used separately or jointly depending on the area-specific situation.

Each of the three methods is complicated enough. Having all three ongoing at the same time in the same area and possibly crisscrossing one another looks so daunting to us that we wonder how DepEd with its pool of talent and genius will manage it.

dir=”ltr”>The holding of online classes is basically having students stay at home to “attend” classes at an appointed day and time. Each student will have a device, possibly a tablet or a laptop, which will be linked by WiFi to the computer of the teacher.

We see a beautiful picture of 30 or so students linked to their teacher and holding a class session much like their parents participating in a teleconference with distant peers and parties, or some friends and relatives comparing notes across time zones.

But for this event to take place, some requirements must be met. All the students in the day’s session must be adequately equipped and adept in the use of the system. Their network must be secure and reliable.

First questions: Do the teacher, his assistant, and all the students in the group have compatible hardware and software? Who will check this? Do they know how to operate their computers, modems, and other paraphernalia with a minimum of assistance?

Prior issues: Average parents may find it a major expense buying a tablet or a laptop, plus accessories, for each of their school children. Since classes for various grades may be scheduled at overlapping hours, they may have to buy several computers.

For a student to concentrate on his online lessons in a house or apartment where they do not have the luxury of private space, he may need headphones. Will his computer be stripped of Google, calculator, dictionary, games, and applications whose use could be considered cheating or a distraction? What happens when the computer hangs, or there is a local brownout, or the WiFi starts acting up?

That is just about the side of the students. The same questions will apply to the teacher and his assistants. In addition, the teacher must have a lesson plan for each subject. Should this be approved by a supervisor or would teachers be given a common electronic lesson plan for each subject? What are the provisions for supervision?

For everybody, what are the ground rules? Since classmates are likely to see one another, at least in individual stamp-size ID photos that appear on the screen as they log on, will a certain attire or school uniform be required? May siblings or parents join a student in “attending” the class? Are parents to be called to a preparatory meeting before their children are enrolled for online classes?

What are the specifications and the software needed by the computers? Some schools abroad issue each student a pre-programmed laptop or tablet that is bare except for what the student needs. He returns it at the end of the term or school year. He cannot use it for things other than schoolwork. The day’s lesson, materials, or test appears on the screen only when needed. Answers to test questions cannot be edited once submitted. The computer runs on a program prepared by the school.

What is our version of their system? Have our teachers and aides been trained and prepared for online classes? If not yet, can we still do it in the seven weeks before Oct. 5? What is to be done with teachers who are learning to use computers only now? Will teachers be home or in school when conducting online classes? If home, will they be paid extra for using domestic space and electricity?

We are just scratching the surface of the discussion on hardware and software. There will be more questions when the discussion goes into the course content, including who will design the program, produce or approve the content? We think that even if many teachers are talented enough to develop content and program the presentation, etc., these should be handled by professionals.

We still have a long way to go. As this is not our area, we hope some expert can help discuss for next time the use of printed materials/modules and broadcast media in distance learning.

On Twitter yesterday, we were appalled by reports that some teachers spend their own money to print or produce materials for their upcoming classes. With the administration pouring billions into “his” police and “his” military, why doesn’t the President spend as generously for our overworked and underpaid teachers?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 18, 2020)

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