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Time to bring back educational TV?

Classroom teaching will never be the same after Lockdown 2020. Without mass testing to separate people with the coronavirus from those without, everyone returning to school, hopefully in June, will do so with a justifiable fear of infection.

Will parents allow their children to resume normal classroom education or opt for homeschooling? Will teachers, vulnerable due to age, be the next frontliners, risking their lives to face possible asymptomatic carriers of the virus?

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Most of my colleagues handle ideal class sizes of 25 students; mine are close to a hundred and require a closed air-conditioned lecture hall. Will this still be possible? Should we face each other with face masks, face shields, portable ionizers, classroom air cleaners, and PPEs? Is online delivery of course content the future of education?

All this current chatter regarding distance education is not new; it was attempted in the 1960s through the Ateneo Center for Educational Television, generously funded by a $100,000 Ford Foundation grant and a P200,000 counterpart donation from Fernando and Eugenio Lopez that covered the costs to set up the crude studio on campus, located between the college covered basketball courts and the Manila Observatory.

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When I was in college, the former TV studio served as the Communications Department, then chaired by Doreen Fernandez. It was here that I took film courses under the late Fr. Nick Cruz, SJ. Here, I learned to make a short Super 8 film, took a survey course on Philippine Cinema, and was exposed to sex and violence on film, in a course that required closed-door screenings of controversial films like “Caligula.”

Our classroom reminded me of the time when I wore shorts; our Grade 2 classrooms were fitted with large black and white TV sets in a wooden box, with a lock to prevent not theft, but unauthorized use during class time.

Ateneo and Maryknoll were connected by cable to the campus broadcast station that provided both pre-taped and “live” courses at set times, on a variety of subjects, to grade school, high school, and college students in Loyola Heights. I vaguely remember Pilipino classes taught by an overweight lady whose face filled the screen.

Some of our classmates appeared in these TV lessons, to the envy of the rest who, like me, remained undiscovered. Some sort of team teaching came about when, at given periods, our classroom teacher moderated or supervised our classroom interaction with the lessons in Filipino, English, and Science on TV. It was odd to be called to recite and speak to a TV set. Units were prone to a variety of technical problems, so the most recognized person on campus, next to the headmaster Father Malasmas, SJ and the chaplain Father Pollock, SJ, was Mr. Abadam, the school’s all-around handyman.

Speaking from my experience, did I learn anything? I think so. Would this have worked if expanded outside Loyola Heights? Maybe. Although as a boy I wished otherwise, because then there would be no escape from school. Imagine being sick at home and yet having to watch lessons on TV. From the initial Ateneo-Maryknoll TV classes, the Asia Foundation funded the production of a high school Physics course that was to pilot in Greater Manila, then to thousands of private and public high schools with TV sets. The only challenge was that partner commercial TV stations that agreed to air these Physics lessons for free would have to provide empty or unsold time slots.

Was the educational TV a success? We will never know, because the infrastructure and dedication required to make it work was not always available. In principle, educational TV is a good idea, but how to make it work is another thing. Now that the pandemic has forced us to rethink the old and tried ways of teaching and look forward to innovations, someone should dig up the reports on the Educational TV project in the archives of the Ford Foundation, so we do not have to reinvent the wheel.

In recent years, Science and Math modules produced by Lucio Tan’s Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education Inc. or FUSE were carried by Rina Lopez’s Knowledge Channel on Sky Cable, which also produced a series on Araling Panlipunan. Our challenge today is the range of choices on the internet. How can we draw people to educational TV as effortlessly as TikTok does?

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Amberth R. Ocamp, educational TV, Looking Back
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