PH education and the new normal
If last year’s enrollment figures are to be a basis, the Philippine education system will be expecting around 27 million students to enroll in the Basic Education System in the coming school year. With the early closure of the school year in March, the enhanced community quarantine in effect, and the still unclear future that the COVID-19 pandemic will bring, the Department of Education (DepEd) and our millions of learners are facing enormous challenges.
In a recent evaluation on ALS (Alternative Learning System) interventions done in the Mindanao region during the quarantine period, platforms such as ICT4ALS, FB Chat, Google Classroom, the Aral Muna app, and DepEd Commons emerged as the most common technological interventions used. Also popular are the use of radio-based intervention — partnerships with local radio stations to announce questions or lessons that can be replied to by phone. There are also the door-to-door delivery of worksheets, take-home learning activity sheets, and take-home portfolio completions. These modalities are being used and explored during the quarantine period and will serve as key learning points for implementation in the bigger education system.
While home school and online learning are among the proposed solutions, access to technology and the internet, especially in remote areas, remains a challenge. In the public education system, it is not uncommon for students to lack internet connection at home or be unable to afford to “load” their phones regularly. Some do not even have computers or phones at all. As this is a reality that many schools, students, and communities will face, the DepEd proposes a combination of different learning modalities and will be using the Blended Learning approach.
In-classroom study and individual study/online classroom work, or Blended Learning, will allow students to learn at their own pace under guided modules. The DepEd has launched an online study platform called DepEd Commons, accessible to both private and public schools, to help students continue their lessons. It has also developed an ALS platform in partnership with Unicef called ICT4ALS, a portal of learning resources, activity sheets, and online tutorials for ALS teachers and learners.
However, the challenge of technology access still remains for public school students. Other factors such as home environment (conduciveness to learning), learner attitudes toward home learning, and technology competence can affect learner outcomes and the effective use of Blended Learning. Learning at home also requires parent participation and support.
Education’s new normal will not just be about operating in an environment that secures the health of students; nor will it be about completely transitioning to online modalities. Instead, it should be about using technology to increase efficiency in areas with the capacity to do so, while empowering learners and communities to create positive learning environments in which the student can grow. It should not sacrifice quality but continue to provide equal opportunities, most especially to the marginalized and vulnerable sectors. It is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but one that is dependent on the needs of each learning community.
While the DepEd carries most of the burden for this challenge, the role of local government units is crucial. An alignment of resources and education goals within each community is needed to support the education ecosystem of students, teachers, and parents and assist the adjustment to the new normal — home schooling, parent-as-teachers training, community internet centers, a Citizen Watch for education, establishing LGU leaders as education champions.
While the future remains unknown, by working together to support and empower the education ecosystems in our communities, we can help establish the structures that our students will need to receive the quality education they deserve, and bring stability in a time of uncertainty.
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Ching Jorge ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Bato Balani Foundation and an Asia21 Fellow of the Asia Society.
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