MANILA— It has been over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic and schools remain closed in the Philippines, with millions of students learning from home.
Public school students are now in the third quarter of School Year 2020 to 2021 and based on the Department of Education's (DepEd) memorandum, their last day will be on July 10 this year.
For Education Undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio, a year of distance learning taught the agency that the home-based component is “valid” when it comes to the students' learning.
He added that self-learning modules have been crafted even before the health crisis, as these are among the agency's alternative delivery modes, in preparation for calamities such as typhoons or earthquakes on in the event of a military siege.
“Ang isang natutunan din natin, kahit bumalik pa ang normal na tinatawag, new normal o better normal ang gusto ng iba, naniniwala ako na iyong home-based learning ay option ng bawat mag-aaral," said San Antonio in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
(One of the things we learned is that even if we go back to "normal" times, the new normal or better normal is what other people prefer. I believe that the home-based learning is an option to every student.)
"So 'pag sinabi ng bata, 'mas komportable ako, mas gusto ko na mayroon na rin ako ng self-learning modules' at 'isa o dalawang ulit lang ako pupunta sa paaralan,' hindi natin sasabihing bawal iyan. So sasabihin natin, payag kami kasi mayroon naman na tayo ng mga gagamiting materyales para sila ay tuloy tuloy na matuto," he explained.
(When a child says 'I am more comfortable with self-learning modules, or 'I would like to go to school twice a week,' we cannot stop them. We will agree with it because we have the materials we need, so they can continuously learn.)
The pandemic has also taught DepEd and its personnel to learn and maximize the use of technology, as the public and private sector adopt a flexible work arrangement, involving both on-site and work-from-home arrangements.
San Antonio shared that meetings have become more frequent through video conferences, compared to physical meetings before the pandemic.
“So nakakapag-usap kami ng mga stratehiya kung paano bibigyan ng tugon ang mga hamon na aming kinakaharap nang mas malimit. Dati iyong ExeCom meeting namin, once a month. Dati iyong ManCom, minsan once every two months or monthy. Ngayon, every week ang pinakamahina,” he said.
(We are discussing strategies on how to address these challenges. Before, our execom meeting was only once a month, while our mancom meeting is once every 2 months or monthly. Now we do it at least once a week.)
The education official believes that through these meetings, the agency was able to attend more to the needs of the education sector.
He cited the agency's program for academic ease, which was implemented within the first month of distance learning.
The measure has allowed for more flexible learning strategies and delivery of requirements for students and teachers.
Philippine schools shifted to distance learning– where students learn from their homes via modules, online classes, television and radio– due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has so far infected over 1 million.
According to a survey in February, a majority of Filipino teachers doubted whether their students learn under the current distance education setup.
Some experts also raised concerns over what they called a “looming learning crisis.”
PARENTS, TEACHERS' ROLE
He added that the pandemic has made him realize how creative teachers and educators can be, as they contextualize their lessons, showing their professionalism and service.
San Antonio also commended parents, who he said have “embraced” their role in the education of their children, and students, who have continued studying amid trying times.
He acknowledged the various feedback received by the DepEd from parents and learners.
Some said they were happy about the merits of distance learning, like being able to access learning materials in the comfort of their homes. Others, on the other hand, have expressed that they are still struggling and are already tired from all the school work.
“So kailangan lang po talaga ang dagdag na inspiration sa ating mga kabataan upang maunawaan nila na naiiba ang sitwasyon, may mga pagbabago pero may paraan para ang pagkakatuto ng mga kaalaman at kasanayan ay tuloy-tuloy,” he explained.
(What we need is additional inspiration for our children so they could understand that the situation today is different, that there are changes but there are still ways to learn continuously)
San Antonio assured the public that the agency would continue hearing the concerns of parents and learners.
“Magbigay alam lang po sa ating mga paaralan kung ano iyong suportang kailangan niyo kasi po pinapayagan iyong learning support aide kung medyo nahihirapan na kayo mismo, walang panahon o kulang iyong kaalaman,” he said.
(Just inform our schools about your concern or what support you will be needing. Learning support aide is allowed most especially if you are encountering challenges or you don't have any knowledge about the particular topic.)
“At iyon pong academic ease, kung mahirap pa rin, ipagbigay alam sa amin kasi talaga pong sinisiguro namin na dapat hindi naman masyadong stressful iyong buhay ng bawat isa.”
(If you are still encountering difficulties amid the academic ease, inform us so we can help you and ensure that things will not be stressful for everyone.)
He emphasized that educators would receive their benefits, along with an increase in load allowance, which they can use for training programs and distance learning.
The DepEd said they would also back the "professional ease" for teachers.
"So kung may academic ease po para sa mga, bata meron din pong ease, academic din iyan or professional ease na sinusuportahan din po natin."
(If there is academic ease for children, there is also professional ease that we are also supporting)
— With reports from Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News