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TV’s role in education after COVID-19

/ 04:04 AM May 05, 2020

The choice of preposition is optimistic: It assumes that we as a society can clearly tell when the coronavirus pandemic has come to an end. There is a time during COVID-19, and then there is an after. But history may not be so straightforward. What will likely happen, even if a vaccine is discovered, is that we will be living through a gray zone for some time to come, with the coronavirus coming under increasing human control but with humans, too many and too various to be vaccinated in one fell swoop, continuing to live and labor under residual uncertainty and constant anxiety.

I share the view that the crisis of normality which the pandemic presents applies to the short and medium term; we will need to radically rethink the way we organize our lives, the way we structure our society, for today and for the next few years. It would be ideal if the changes are built to last—but, if history itself is any guide, we cannot be certain that the human race has the resolve or the wisdom to deliberately shape the long term.

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How many of us remember the 1968 Hong Kong influenza, which may have killed around 4 million people (including many on the US West Coast)? How many of us have even heard of the 1957 Asian influenza, which also likely started from China and claimed around 2 million victims around the world? I certainly didn’t. The World Economic Forum asked Laura Spinney, who wrote “Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World,” whether the coronavirus pandemic would go down in the history books. Her answer was bracing. “It’s too early to know if we’ll remember this one, but the precedents suggest we won’t… they were much worse than this one to date, and we don’t remember them.”

I take that to mean that it is just as likely as not that the old normal will reassert itself even after a few years of the new — because of different factors, human habits as much as structural reasons.

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In joining the conversation over the reimagining of the educational system in the Philippines, then, I would like to focus on the short and medium term, leaving the long term to take care of itself.

On April 3, linking to a story about the BBC’s “biggest online education push,” I tweeted the following suggestion: “If the 2020-21 school year will be delayed bec of #COVID19PH, PH educators may want to consider variations of this BBC push. Not everyone has reliable access to the internet—but everyone can access TV. What if certain TV shows were used as learning material, w/ study guides, etc?”

The appeal to techno-optimism (the idea that in this public health emergency, schools can simply go online, allowing teachers greater freedom and students greater participation) is a cruel echo of the digital optimism that entranced us in the last decade and then betrayed our hopes. (The scholar David Hesmondhalgh, in his magisterial “The Cultural Industries,” identified the six defining problems of today’s digital culture: unequal access and unequal skill levels, concentration of power, intensified commercialism, a surveillance economy, unpaid labor, and greater power of the IT industries.)

So Rep. Joey Salceda is right to question the new emphasis on online learning. But he is wrong to suggest that digital resources should play no role whatsoever in the education system during the pandemic.

They may play a role in what is now being called flexible or blended learning; for some students, under certain conditions, the use of platforms like Facebook might be effective. The so-called unconfined cinema that Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz performed on Instagram Live last week dramatizes the possibility of releasing highly engaging content through social media, or using social media to practice and demonstrate the acquisition of new skills.

But if I’m not mistaken, TV penetration rate in the country is around 80 percent. That means more people, and thus more students, access TV free of charge. As both the BBC and CCTV’s China Education Television Channel 4 have done, Philippine TV stations can air new or recycled programming aligned with learning objectives. This can be done both on national or local levels as a public service.

The TV stations don’t need to air new content, however, for them to play a crucial role in education in the short and medium term. Teachers in coordination with producers can prepare study questions for newscasts; networks can use their other platforms to host quizzes and other exercises to build skills; interview shows and variety shows alike can partner with schools or specific professors to convert a regular short segment into an educational resource, perhaps to develop critical thinking or to study an aspect of culture. Future journalists can study Christian Esguerra’s or Pinky Webb’s Q&A skills; literature classes can follow Joey de Leon, sometime poet, on “Eat Bulaga”; criminology majors can work with Gus Abelgas and “SOCO”; students reading Rizal can learn from Lourd de Veyra.

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The time is short, but in the coming gray zone, the possibilities are many.

On Twitter: @jnery_newsstand, email: [email protected]

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TAGS: john Nery, Newsstand, postpandemic education television
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