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Grappling with distance education

This governmental action accelerated the full implementation of one of the major elements of distance education, described by Desmond Keegan as the “teacher-student separation.”

In the Philippines, the Department of Education (DepEd) decided to shift to printed learning modules for students. The creation of learning modules for distance education may be described as an industrialized form of education. In this setup, the learning modules are designed for the general student population rather than with the individual student in mind. Educators know the importance that interaction plays in the educational process and context, but students and teachers have been deprived of such interaction due to the school closures. Without it, students have to study and learn the lessons by themselves. In traditional face-to-face classroom sessions, students can interact with other students and teachers.

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The challenge for distance educators is how to inject more interactive elements in the design and creation of learning modules. As a teacher, I know the impact of physical interaction, or the lack of it, on students’ learning. For instance, two incoming Grade 8 students whom I interviewed said they are having a more difficult time understanding the lessons discussed by their teachers since they cannot discuss the lessons with their classmates. Even an elementary student that I got to talk to noted that the lack of less physical interaction has negatively affected his learning process, because there’s not much time to process and fully understand the lessons.

To bridge the gap between teachers and students, well-written printed learning materials can help in creating dialogue and reducing misunderstandings. Learning materials and resources in distance education must have a tone and spirit of “friendly conversation” in them, to encourage greater engagement among readers.

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Unfortunately, this is far from what the Department of Education achieved with the “self-learning modules” (SLMs) it created last school year. Aside from a number of factual errors that found their way into the materials, most students found the modules difficult to use. Moreover, our experience in the previous school year showed that digital interaction remains a big challenge for both teachers and students due to the lack of devices and poor internet connectivity, a reality that underscores the widespread digital divide in our society.

As a teacher that has experienced both writing a module for the distance education format and teaching it, I’ve realized that there are many things I still need to learn to fully settle into this new normal. While the improvement and transformation of technology provide new ways of delivering lessons to students, the challenge lies in recreating that classroom interaction atmosphere in our virtual classrooms. In order to achieve that, I believe more robust teacher training and government support toward distance education are needed in our country today.

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Charles Joseph G. de Guzman is a social science teacher at the Philippine Science High School. He is taking up his Master of Distance Education degree at the University of the Philippines Open University.

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TAGS: Charles Joseph G. de Guzman, Commentary, COVID-19 education, Distance Education, online classes
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