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How ready are we to resume school?

While the debate on whether to open school on Aug. 24 for public schools has been rendered moot for now with the government moving the school opening to October, parents and students continue to wrestle with the issue of what learning modality a school community should adopt — face-to-face, online, modular, or a merry blend of all these. And, despite the tough call, teachers, parents, and students are in agreement that education and learning will just have to continue. Yet, how prepared are teachers for the new roles demanded of them?

At a Lock ‘n Roll forum hosted by author and publisher Segundo Matias, educators raised important questions that need to be addressed. Public school teacher Alden Cedrick de Guzman pointed out how the basic logistics of blended learning have to be ironed out, and how television and radio broadcasting need to be utilized. In public schools, the majority of parents are opting for modules because of the lack of required electronic devices and reliable and affordable internet connectivity. These learning packages, still being completed for schools nationwide, are assigned to teachers to distribute to their students’ homes. But with such exposure, are teachers in effect frontliners, too? What is the procedure to follow should teachers or students test positive for COVID-19?

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Parents know that their added responsibility, aside from their day jobs, is to work closely with their school-age children. This has led many to ask, according to public school principal Myrna Castillo Domingo, if that extra task does not merit a corresponding remuneration. Domingo, however, reminds parents of the intangible reward of the “apostolate of presence” in their children’s lives, a rarity in more normal times.

Frederick Sotto Perez, assistant principal for academics at Xavier School Nuvali and president of the Reading Association of the Philippines, sees the new adjustments to the demands of the times as a call for teachers who are usually eager to teach all that the curriculum suggests, to be more discriminating and to focus on what is most essential. He asked a question that should give everyone a thoughtful pause: Who does the teacher follow in these times—psychologist Abraham Maslow with his hierarchy of human needs, who advocates answering the basic physiological needs before psychological or self-actualizing needs, or Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives, which every respectable education student has to commit to memory and even recite in one’s sleep? Remember Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation? There is no debate that before any genuine learning can take place, the student’s basic needs must first be met.

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Perez works in a private school setting and is more fortunate resources-wise. However, as a teacher, he still grapples with the right teaching strategies to use for his online classes. He knows that he cannot merely transfer his regular classroom routine online; a different kind of planning is required to engage students.

Perez’s school year has begun, and he admits that the e-learning plan Xavier has developed is a work in progress that continues to be reworked with each school day. But he takes pride that the school’s plan has been adopted from the best educational practices of overseas schools—and is also available for other schools to adopt, tweak, revise according to the unique needs of their school setting. The plan emphasizes that distance learning is not meant to be a simulation of the student’s 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. school day, and the length of learning periods is dependent on the attention span, the unique needs of the students, and the appropriate screen time for the grade level. The Kinder-Grade 1 school day is recommended at 1.5-2 hours; the longest school day is for Grades 11-12 at 5-6 hours.

As the new school year approaches, it is not a bad idea to draw from successful school plans to recreate new ways of teaching and learning. Why reinvent the wheel when teachers should be spending their time and energy instead retooling classroom strategies to genuinely address their students’ learning needs?

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the Where the Write Things Are Writing Center and former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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TAGS: 2020 school opening, Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Distance Education, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, online classes
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