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The Learning curve

Rapid tests of the reliable variety

Even as we await the shape and form of this year’s classroom instruction to begin on Aug. 24, many voices have been heard stressing why education cannot wait for a vaccine.

The pandemic is here to stay and we had better learn to live with it, something possible if we had the determination and the common sense to deal with the lingering crisis. As the latest meme says, “This is a public service message. If you have loss of sense of smell, or loss of sense of taste, these are symptoms of COVID-19. Loss of common sense is not a symptom… it is the reason you got the disease.”

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Aside from the most obvious reason why learning cannot be postponed, our concern is for today’s students who cannot be further deprived of this basic right. How we respond to the difficult circumstances surrounding our educational system shows the degree of our concern for youth empowerment and our country’s future. I am not even talking of dismal international assessment test results.

The premise of the recent New York Times article by Spencer Bokat-Lindell was insightful: “The cost of restarting classes could be high. Is the cost of not restarting them higher?” He does not dwell on the difficult issue of safety for the children, pointing out data that the young are not that vulnerable to the virus. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that school is an important “bulwark against hunger, social isolation, physical and sexual abuse, drug use, depression and suicidal ideation.” We tend to forget that students need the school environment for their social and emotional needs.

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Teach for the Philippines (TFP) is embarking on a new uncertain school year with many necessary adjustments in its usual programs. Funding may be a bigger challenge than usual, but it is determined to continue on, adjusting as it goes along but not losing sight of its reason for being—providing quality education, especially for public school students belonging to a vulnerable and deprived sector in our society, and building a nation of readers through its remediation program for older students still unable to read. A true catch-up to address learning gaps in the early years.

Its programs, cited in the 2019-20 Accomplishment Report, have included a community engagement project to equip parents to feel confident about reinforcing reading skills at home through a home library system and reading to their child daily. A special Batang Bayani program addresses students’ social and emotional needs.

Its Ambassadors Program brings together former public school teachers and education-focused government agencies to work toward education reforms. Last year, there were 10 such TFP ambassadors. It also partnered with a corps of five selected tenured public school teachers from Mindanao, all with the leadership potential and the drive for better teaching in their communities.

Teacher for a Day, in celebration of National Teachers Month, has also become a tradition, inviting leaders from the local and national governments to share their special area of expertise in the classroom. A recent featured visitor was Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson at the Navotas National High School. (I had been such a guest teacher more than once, and it has always been memorable.)

In planning for the school opening, TFP had to verify the circumstances of its clientele before finalizing the shape and form of its teaching model—a sensible way to begin. It made use of its own version of rapid—and certainly, more reliable—tests. The Rapid Assessment Survey was a two-month, three-pronged initiative to gather data from government leaders, households, and teachers in the communities TFP works with. These three different survey types are the Rapid Assessment Governance Survey, Rapid Assessment Access Survey, and the Rapid Assessment Teaching Survey. Despite knowing it would reach only a small percentage of the population, TFP was still eager to know more about the education landscape to make its “best-guess” strategies effective.

Because TFP supports public school teachers nationwide, it has had to rely on remote means for coordination and communication, long before the threat of the pandemic. Thus, it was able to shift, quickly and painlessly, its usual face-to-face pre-service summer teacher training to an online platform in just weeks of the quarantine order. Now it is even ready to run teacher training programs on online learning for public school teachers.

These may be small steps, but such planning is key to transitioning to this different school year coming up. Planning renders the impossible possible. Take it from the TFP experience.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: classes, coronavirus philippines, covid-19 philippines, education, new normal, pandemic
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