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What are we missing?

An article by Ben Williamson, Rebecca Eynon, and John Potter in Learning, Media, and Technology (Volume 45, 2020, Issue 2) titled “Pandemic politics, pedagogies and practices: digital technologies and distance education during the coronavirus emergency” tells us that “it appears clear that certain actors in the edtech industry are treating the crisis as a business opportunity, with potentially long-term consequences for how public education is perceived and practiced long after the coronavirus has been brought under control.”

The article cites the political analysis of Hillman, Bergviken Rensfeldt, and Ivarsson and suggests “the need for serious caution regarding the expansion of edtech and other platform companies during the coronavirus pandemic. At the present time, public education has been forcibly decentralized into students’ own homes, largely disaggregated from the institutions and practices of education and instead repositioned as a form of homeschooling mediated by technology tools, edu-businesses and other institutions… The current state of ‘pandemic pedagogy,’ in other words, may not be seen by some businesses as simply an emergency response to a public health and political crisis, but as a rapid prototype of education as a private service and an opportunity to recentralize decentralized systems through platforms.”

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This warning is certainly valid for the Philippine educational system. Our educators should reserve some energy to look into these concerns. The mobilization of the whole government and society for the distribution of “ayuda” and the sense of momentary contentment that comes with the accomplishment of this mission by the national and local governments can make one panic at the thought that life should not be all about a single-dose dole-out.

I worry especially about an aspect of Philippine life that is so intangible it is easy to neglect: civic education. We have been operating at a civic deficit over several decades. This civic deficit is what has prevented Filipinos from the blessings of good governance.

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Making good citizens today has already become complicated, especially under the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything seems to have become dedicated to what has been called the “rituals of containment,” which refer not only to the pandemic as a health issue but also as a social control issue brought about by the revolution of rising expectations and the deep and pervading sense of deprivation.

Note the contrast. Becoming a Filipino was easier during the postwar years: Over 10 years of schooling (elementary and high school), every day was flag ceremony day. At the appointed time, the students took their designated positions, lined up by year and section. There was an opportunity for young pride for the student who led the national anthem. Another student would lead in the recitation of the “Panatang Makabayan.” Preparatory Military Training (PMT) cadets or senior scouts would raise the flag. There was always a proper way of folding and unfolding the flag. Occasionally, the principal or a guest speaker would speak. On certain days, like United Nations Day or Bataan Day, there were performances by school thespians.

The flag ceremony in our elementary school was more rousing and elaborate. Military music would play as students marched in line toward their classroom. In a few minutes, the school would quiet down as classes began, to explode in noise after several hours as soon as the recess was sounded.

These daily routines have been disrupted by the pandemic, and the sense of loss among pupils and students may not be obvious, but we suspect it is there. They will not quite be able to pinpoint what is missing. Perhaps part of the loss is seeing how their elders are helpless in recreating their environments to mitigate the sense of loss.

I worry about the “platformization of pandemic pedagogy.” This is not a transient threat. It can change the way we teach our children how to take care of themselves and the country.

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