Can a lost school year be recovered?
I have just completed a series of mentoring conversations with two public school teachers working with the Teach for the Philippines (TFP) team during this challenging school year, which has just ended. (TFP is a nonprofit committed to providing quality public education for all.) Our regular virtual meetings were scheduled based on the guidelines of the TFP’s Mentorship Program, one that provides guidance and assistance to teachers on their second year of service, as they decide what to do after their two-year teaching contract ends. The mentor is an invited professional meant to guide the mentees on their post-TFP future.
This is not the first time I have been invited to mentor prospective “graduates” from the program, many of whom opt to be continuing advocates for quality public school education for all, no matter their social and economic backgrounds. Over the years, I have seen how career plans vary for the mentees, but the recurring constant is a firm resolve to upgrade the quality of public school education. How can one spend two years of teaching in a public school and not be affected by it?
Isabelle Vinoya, a Teacher Fellow who is a psychology graduate from De La Salle, has been a remedial reading teacher for Grades 2–6 students in Bacjawan Sur Elementary School in Concepcion, Iloilo. She knew reading was an area of concern because the students were reading two levels below their grades and their comprehension was less than ideal even in Filipino. Rather than be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem, she decided to address it as a challenge to be confronted.
Vinoya saw the difficulties at every turn: the inadequate learning resources, the difficulties of teaching students who were poorly nourished, the lack of support at home because of parents preoccupied with earning a living, the desire of students to return to the classroom because online learning was difficult at home as they bravely attempted to carry on with keypad phones. How to create an environment that promotes learning and literacy? How best to support reading teachers, too?
Carolyn Legason of the Fr. William T. Masterson, SJ Elementary School in uptown Cagayan de Oro City, a designated Teacher Leader, has had a longer tenure in the public school system. She had been busy using the teacher-created Marungko Approach to teach beginning reading and translate it to Bisaya. What took as much time was duplicating these phonics booklets and distributing them to students who live in the hinterlands. Home visits were not always regular for those living in remote areas. Again, because parental supervision was not always possible, student worksheets were not always completed or ended up answered by parents themselves. The parents who were open to teach their children learned to tell stories, sing songs, and play games to get their young interested in reading.
There were some gains made: Reading levels were significantly boosted, home visits included a book loan system, and a learning community center was built in partnership with the 3rd Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, a project supported by Vinoya’s school principal.
Vinoya knows these are hardly enough, but she pays special tribute to her colleagues, the excellent DepEd teachers on the ground who have made the most of this school year’s difficulties.
Hearing how the school year went for these two teachers concerned with functional literacy provides a glimpse into how they and their colleagues struggled through the year. If the teachers themselves struggled, could their young wards have fared better?
How to move forward from here? There is no need to repeat the oft-cited statistics about a floundering public school system worsened by the challenges of the pandemic. There is a crisis, and acknowledging this sad reality is where we should begin. We need to empower the students with every educational opportunity to help nurture an enlightened citizenry for the future. We owe them that.
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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and was former chair of the National Book Development Board.
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