Internet and apps cannot substitute for actual school experience
As the new school year starts for most schools, from elementary to tertiary, we have to grapple once again with the online mode of learning. Counting the term when the lockdown in most parts of the country started in March 2020, this will be the fourth consecutive semester that college students will undergo online learning. While some have adjusted to this setup, the same cannot be said for many others.
Several groups have repeatedly called on the government to consider the safe reopening of schools. At different points in the pandemic, there have been questions about why malls and other establishments have been allowed to operate, albeit partially, while schools remained closed. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers has made a pitch for “limited, voluntary, and targeted” face-to-face classes. It is worth noting that the Philippines is one of the few remaining countries where schools have yet to reopen.
In particular, I am concerned about the learning outcomes of students. In my field, which is engineering, students are expected not only to grasp mathematical equations and physics concepts, they must also go through hands-on experience. It is not enough that one can compute the voltage and current in a simple circuit; this needs to be learned with actual components that are best shown in the laboratory. It is not enough that one appreciates the physics behind rotating machines; this needs to be dissected part by part to know how individual parts contribute to the rotatory motion. While simulation software available for a paid subscription or for free might help visualize these lessons, they cannot act as a substitute to the learning experience one can have inside a lab. The same goes for other fields in the physical sciences — chemistry, biology, physics — and the social sciences — anthropology, sociology, etc.
It does not help that a year and a half into the pandemic, many students are still struggling to have the proper gadgets. Some are beset with internet connectivity problems, which are affected by factors such as location and the financial capacity to have a monthly subscription (for Wi-Fi) or cellphone load (for mobile data). Teachers, too, have their own difficulties. Losing the boundary between work and household has not been helpful. The environment where students, teachers, and the community meet inside schools is important for overall holistic learning.
Forgotten, too, is how schools and universities act as safe spaces for students who are elsewhere vulnerable to threats and dangers from various sources. Schools and universities may have guidance and counseling services that would otherwise be inaccessible because of factors such as stigma and cost.
The ultimate solution would be a better pandemic response, but at this point, that is nowhere to be found. Which only makes the call for a safe reopening of classes a pipe dream.
EDWARD JOSEPH H. MAGUINDAYAO
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