The pot of gold at the end of the basic-education rainbow is the high school diploma. Most of our high school seniors will be receiving theirs by the end of March. For the graduating students of “Yolanda”-hit towns, it will be a wait of another two weeks.
It is a short delay considering the devastation wrought in November by the deadliest typhoon to visit the country to date. Almost 18,000 classrooms were destroyed, displacing more than a million K to 12 students.
At the persistence of Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, schools reopened within weeks as soon as makeshift classrooms became available. Not surprisingly, attendance was low. It was, however, a first step toward something brighter, and by January the students had returned to the regular rhythm of learning. But by then they were several weeks behind the school calendar, and playing catchup was not easy amid the rubble and confusion of the typhoon’s aftermath.
So how did it happen that, after missing classes for at least two months, only two weeks will separate the young Yolanda survivors from graduating students in the rest of the country?
According to Luistro, some schools in the devastated towns held Saturday classes and others added an hour to the school day to make up for lost time. Teachers in schools that could hold only half-day sessions because of classroom shortage sent their students home with self-learning modules.
The extended day, week and year interventions were actually done for all students who returned to schools in the devastated areas and not just for graduating students, in order to comply with the Department of Education rule that students should attend at least 180 school days, albeit in a tent or patched-up structure.
There will be no mass promotion even in the disaster-hit school districts, according to the DepEd. So it set a realistic requirement for promotion: mastery of major competencies—language, math, science, civics—to be assessed through the final examinations.
There may be nothing harmful in promoting all students to the next level, especially in the Yolanda-stricken areas, as long as promotion comes with intervention to make sure that their education is up to par.
For one thing, retaining kids is costly. If public schools hold back students who have not met grade-level criteria for all kinds of reasons, even those caused by a calamity, there will be less room for new enrollees. For another, in a city reeling from the devastation to property and livelihood like Tacloban, retaining older students means delaying their entry into the labor market. Learners also have a hard time living down the stigma of repeating a grade. Studies show that retention is a powerful predictor of a student dropping out of high school.
The challenge to the DepEd then is to move students on with their peers but find and fund ways to help the struggling ones improve their skills to grade level. Unfortunately, both our private and public schools are not big on interventions. They think education is simple. Students come to class, the teacher teaches, students either pass or fail the tests, and it’s goodbye, Mr. Chips.
One option for schools is to offer a summer program for children who have missed crucial grade-level lessons because of the catastrophe, before they move on to the next level.
Just like in some US cities, schools can create Saturday math academies that focus on the given subject, or they can arrange for a second period of math, science or any other subject that needs a double dose every day. Schools should also consider a language immersion program for slow readers.
Another intervention sorely lacking in public schools is a tutorial program held daily under classmates, older students or adult tutors. Improved social skills are a bonus from such sessions.
After-school mentoring programs can be provided by community and church groups for enrichment activities or values conducive to school success. Students living in refugee centers and tent cities can likewise benefit from continuing education from mentors at these sites.
The response of the private sector to calls by the DepEd to help rebuild schools post-Yolanda has been tremendous. The need for infrastructure is extensive and everything must be fast-tracked before the next school year starts. But at the same time, we must design intervention and sustain support for the students left struggling by Yolanda. Otherwise, they will end up academically limping in and out of nice classrooms.
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