On The Move

Not all teachers can teach

COVID-19 has been a revealing stress test for our political, health, security, social, economic, judicial, mass media, educational, regulatory, and local government institutions. The police fanned out en masse in camouflage uniforms and assault rifles, instilling shock and awe among the people, while imposing quarantine restrictions. Poor checkpoint procedures, erratic implementation, errant commanders and overbearing sentries have spelled an unpopular level of performance. The health care system headed by the Department of Health has come to grief because of the delayed, inadequate, and unsystematic way of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the cavalier generation and use of the statistics for decision-making, and the lack of transparency in crafting a logistical response. Now it is the Department of Education on the dock. Will it be able to lead the educational system managers, teachers, students, and parents, on this grand effort to continue education without face-to-face schooling?

At the moment, there is a lot of thrashing about. There is a lack of an overall all-of-government strategy and multistakeholder consultation to understand the overall problem. President Duterte himself doubts online learning will work, although he has agreed to Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ “blended learning” proposal.


Reflecting the lack of definitive guidance, institutional, organizational, and individual efforts remain largely uncoordinated. Some universities are undertaking complex and long-winded online tutorials for their faculty which are not very helpful for lack of needs assessment as to which teachers need which training.

Many of these online training programs start out as training sessions, but immediately transform into discussions on nagging problems and issues such as how accounting and monitoring of class contact hours will be like in online mode, or how student cheating will be controlled. Obviously, these training sessions are not the proper venue for these peer-to-peer litanies of anticipated problems. They, however, point to the problem of lack of management consultations with teachers, parents, and students.


There is a rush to make policy choices — which Learning Management System to adopt, what facilities to set up at the institutional, college, and departmental levels, how to distribute access to these facilities, what devices are needed for students in the urban, rural, and marginal and peripheral areas. There is yet no real provision for contextualization, piloting of methods, and learning from mistakes.

From my immersion on preparatory programs for teachers, I have distilled these action points for the Philippine context:

1) Start with a comprehensive diagnostic survey: The nature, extent, depth, and context of problems encountered in the transition to distance learning must be surveyed. This is the equivalent of the “mass testing” requirement for COVID-19 — to undertake a survey that would reveal the peculiar extent, pattern, and trends in the attributes of students, teachers, schools, and distance education and internet facilities in various geographic areas nationwide.

2) Focus on the neediest target beneficiaries: Distance learning must be configured to the poverty and remoteness of the students. How, exactly, will learning happen in specific remote areas in Samar and Marawi?

3) Prototype proposed solutions before deploying nationwide: As David Korten tells us, we have to learn to be effective, learn to be efficient, and, only then, learn to expand.4) Install a strong “control tower” presence: Shifting to online is not only a matter of mode. It requires a new enterprise management model as well. Online courses, like planes, will not take off and complete travel safely without a control tower. Universities, colleges, and departments have the added responsibility of providing concepts and frameworks, providing systems and facilities, providing training and coaching, in addition to leadership, management, and logistical support.

5) Remember the work or learning week is only 40 hours long: Each teacher, student, parent is only a bundle of 40 hours a week. Asynchronous modes create the illusion each one has all the time in the world, leading to over-committing everybody.

What may be the biggest dilemma in shifting to distance education is this: not all teachers can teach in online or distance mode. Note that teaching online means designing courses, curating course resource materials, creating multimedia presentations, facilitating interactive online sessions, connecting with students in both feedback and feedforward modes. Many teachers cannot even really teach well in face-to-face mode. Forcing teachers who cannot teach in distance mode to do so will damage the educational system. However, many of the teachers who cannot teach are perhaps those who need their teaching jobs the most. This is where we need Mr. Duterte’s or Secretary Briones’ Solomonic wisdom in the shift to blended learning.


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TAGS: coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Distance Education, On The Move, online classes, Rodrigo Duterte, Segundo Eclar Romero, Teachers, teaching
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