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Classes must open? It’s a COVID-19 year

/ 05:10 AM May 31, 2020

The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) should seriously consider moving the official opening of formal classes, online or offline, to January 2021. Let’s offer a feasible and holistic alternative to August-December.

Ever since COVID-19 reached our shores, both DepEd and CHEd have been coming out with press releases regarding the opening of schools without offering any real clarity. What we’re getting, instead, are veiled threats to adjust or quit teaching. It is not empowering. Instead, it is Darwinian. Analogy 1: We’re being taken hostage by our own bosses and are being asked for a ransom we can’t produce because we weren’t even given salaries.

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Now, more than ever, we’re seeing the disconnect in how the central offices think and how we, teachers on the ground, work. From the first sessions of school, we already know how so many of our students would not have ready internet connection. On the other hand, we have Education Secretary Leonor Briones on TV saying, in not so many words, that those who couldn’t find a way to go online… would just have to find a way to go online.

I am also not alone in wondering why the education sector insists on reopening so soon. Haven’t we learned anything from rushing the implementation of K-to-12?

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The answer usually thrown at me is that there are laws which dictate that schools should open no later than August. For me, this concern falls under the way we view the law and whom it should serve. Should people serve the law? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? The quick retort I have is that the law should adjust. We are in the middle of a pandemic, on a scale that has never been experienced before by anyone alive today.

It seems DepEd and CHEd are giving in to the pressure — or perhaps currying favor with President Duterte, believing that “might is right” and the things we unlearn in reading T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King.” This is clear in Briones saying there is a need to mobilize the country’s young population, to have them do something, lest they rot in being “unproductive.” Why this is so, we can only surmise after reading Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and understanding what the education sector’s unspoken role is in maintaining the status quo.

So, they want to shift to online teaching, fully believing the flyers touting it as the future of education. They believe in all this while at the same time recognizing the many gaping sinkholes of K-to-12 in recent years. Analogy 2: A car broke down and, for some reason, its owner wants it to not only fix itself, but for it to fly.

Yes, I agree, like everyone else stuck in this pandemic, the education sector must keep swimming to keep afloat, but that does not mean merely migrating online and justifying it as “keeping up with the times.” The first step to an alternative is recognizing and declaring the year as a COVID-19 year. The next is coming up with curricula that are specifically for this peculiar year; we cannot insist on the same curricula and simply “work around” COVID-19. This might mean an additional year and/or remedial provisions. At the same time, it must be a period that those who cannot afford to go to school can opt not to attend, and not be disadvantaged for it.

I do not know of any teacher who loves his or her profession and discipline and, at the same time, wholeheartedly believes that the online classroom passes as a suitable replacement, albeit temporarily. We need to reframe this academic year as an extraordinary year that would be credited as National Service Training Program and/or other similar co-curricular subjects/electives, where the form of teaching (online and long distance) suits the content of life under COVID-19. In this “classroom” scenario, COVID-19 will not just be an asterisk in the course objectives but a central theme. This setup would correspondingly follow a different grading system.

In my discipline, for example, I cannot expect my students to have the same rigorous discussions via Zoom. So, instead, we build the basics: Have them read novels, free and available for download online — materials that DepEd and CHEd once rejected because of “time constraints” — and rely on structures that are already at their disposal offline.

The issue is beyond determining a date for when the school year should begin. The entire sector needs to commit to a plan for the entire year and the years beyond that, to see this as an odd opportunity to regroup, and not just to survive until we arrive at a worsened “new normal.” The point of education, after all, is to attempt to better things.

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DLS Pineda is an educator in Agusan del Norte. He holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in Creative Writing from UP Diliman.

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