Let’s do in-person learning right
During the President’s first press briefing, there was a renewed pronouncement of committing to resuming 100 percent in-person classes by November. So far, the Philippines is one of the longest to remain in remote learning mode and one of the slowest to transition to in-person classes. Given that the Department of Education had already piloted in-person classes and some private schools have also resumed in-person classes, we should be extracting lessons on what it means to conduct in-person learning during a pandemic.
The principal reason why students and their families request a return to in-person classes is that remote learning requires technological resources that many do not have. The pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of the country’s internet infrastructure. The Philippines ranks as one of the most expensive internets in the region and also one of the slowest speeds at the same time. The reliability of the connection is also poor, making for a frustrating learning experience. Remote learning has further widened the social inequality in education, where families are forced to buy devices and internet plans to ensure that their children can attend classes. Providing the option of in-person classes can relieve families who cannot afford such technological support. At the same time, we must be mindful that in-person classes also have their costs. Transportation is a big cost to consider when mandating in-person attendance. We must also reconsider traditionally required materials such as uniforms and school supplies and see if this will pose an additional burden to families already dealing with the loss of livelihood and income due to the past lockdowns. The simplest solution is to have public schools supply these materials for the students or remove these requirements altogether.
Another reason students state wanting to return to campus is the need for space conducive to learning. At a high cost, we have realized that merely providing class content is not enough. We have seen a significant uptick in demotivation, school refusal, and ultimately dropping out. Accompanying these are significant issues of depression, anxiety, and burnout. I hope educators take in this valuable lesson: No learning without motivation exists. We have removed things that sustain students’ desire to learn by stripping school down to academic content. Not all families have the luxury of private and conducive spaces for their children to study. Children are often left to grapple with the lessons and tasks on their own, especially if classes are run as modules. In my experience, some students benefit from parallel study, where they study side by side with someone else. We must acknowledge the value of physical spaces in enhancing focus and motivation, not just in classrooms but in social spaces like cafeterias and benches, private and quiet spaces like libraries, wide open spaces like fields, and play spaces like playgrounds and basketball courts. In our campus in UP Diliman, initial guidelines ban loitering in campus in between classes. Not only is it illogical that students need a place to stay while waiting for the next class, but we also need to acknowledge that the moments between modules and classes provide valuable learning. Having unstructured time in a school environment allows us to practice our interpersonal skills with their peers. We can also practice solitude and being one with nature. This is also a good time to practice self-care and learn to reset before the next class.
Finally, one big reason students want to return to campus is socialization. Especially at the secondary and tertiary levels, school life is characterized by a thriving campus life that includes festivals, events, fairs, and active student organizations and activities. When advising students and clients on managing their school stress, I sometimes tell them that more is more. Joining a school organization can sometimes lead to a more satisfying school life, which will help cushion the stress from school tasks. This is clearest when we removed these events in students’ school lives—they are more likely to be burned out when they have nothing but requirements to look forward to.
We have had two years of remote learning and months of piloted in-person learning under our belt. Let’s make sure to learn from them so that we can do in-person learning right.
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