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The Pandora’s box of pandemic-era DepEd

/ 05:03 AM August 22, 2020

In teaching the myth of Pandora’s box, the discussion is often concluded with Hope, one of the many things Pandora would unleash, as a consolation. In my college classes, however, we nuance this with questions such as: Why was Hope among chaos, sickness, death, and other evils? Isn’t the myth trying to show the precarious nature of Hope, as in hope making us believe we can do things we shouldn’t even be considering in the first place?

From here, the class would proceed to question other assumptions the myth takes. For example, who is to blame for the box’s opening, Zeus or Pandora, a woman? And if Zeus, the creator of the box himself, is to blame, why name the box after Pandora?

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Here, we proceed to the topic of narrative framing, and how it has historically helped or held back perspectives. It could also be noted that the word “pandemic” is so close to “Pandora.” However, the link cannot be established so clearly since “pan-” is Greek for “all,” and “demos” means “people.” Regardless, Pandora’s box might have, for a time, served as a suitable explanation for all the pains we all experience.

If the pandemic hadn’t come, I would have been teaching this lecture in a classroom. I declined teaching online because the “online classroom” simply does not lend itself well to the conversations and debates we usually enjoy in class, the way I believe Literature is best appreciated. I do understand, however, that some subjects and some teachers have a different experience online, and that’s well and good. The education sector is diverse and can be assumed to have the most brainpower; having different approaches shouldn’t be frowned upon.

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Unfortunately, I do not think Secretary Leonor Briones understands this. She is not fit to handle the Department of Education (DepEd). She must resign.

Firstly, I do not think someone her age should be on the ground during a pandemic. It is a national shame—not a heroic feat—that we’re letting a 79-year-old roam around and work, considering the danger COVID-19 poses against persons her age. Secondly, judging from her latest press conferences, her insensitivity to the situation and her lack of awareness of other people’s plight may be putting persons and institutions at risk.

I must, first, nuance this with the reality that all schools are not created equal. Some schools are doing well online, while some are closing. I am not entirely against online learning—especially upon seeing how it works up close, how lessons can be cued and how schedules can be recalibrated online—but the bigger part of the education sector is at a disadvantage, and had been way behind targets even before the pandemic struck. These are realities that Briones seems to be shrugging off in her attempt to mimic her direct superior who is even more devoid of nuance.

What bothers me even more is how teaching and learning will be after COVID-19. As teachers, we are hopeful by default, and I have faith that there will be an end to this pandemic. But it seems that the DepEd, under Briones’ leadership, is committing irreparable mistakes. The catch-up webinars the DepEd and the Commission on Higher Education have been conducting in the past two months are all practically untested. With this as backdrop, and after decades of insight about distance learning and online learning, not to mention the risks in upping screen time for children, Briones still could not come up with anything more incisive than “children desire to go back to school.”

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, concerns on the shifts in curricula and the learning ladder (i.e., grade level promotion) have not been adequately addressed. These would have been the easiest analogue solutions to the problem of schooling during COVID-19, but the DepEd is preoccupied with producing the bandwidth for online learning. Put simply, can we expect graduates of this altered curricula to be as competent as those who graduated pre-COVID-19?

The DepEd is mum on these issues and more. Many private schools are taking initiatives to address these roadblocks by themselves, but they are a tiny, tiny percentage. Often hushed is the discussion on how these initiatives would widen the divide between public and private schools even more. Of course, Briones can keep her ears plugged; she had closed 55 “lumad” schools in October last year.

The biggest disaster in the myth of Pandora’s box is that it became an easy explanation for all the things that plagued society, and Pandora was blamed for everything. In Briones’ case, however, the story of Zeus’ box and a clueless Pandora opening it might just be a plausible enough metaphor. We’re seeing it unfold right before our eyes.

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DLS Pineda is an educator in Agusan del Norte. He finished his BA and MA in Creative Writing in UP Diliman.

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TAGS: Coronavirus, COVID-19, DepEd, distance learning, education, health, learning, Leonor briones, online classes, pandemic, virus
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