MANILA — It's a day before graduation rites and Edna Bañaga, principal of San Francisco High School in Quezon City, is already in her Filipiniana.
She is ready to deliver her speech - not physically in front of students, as what was the norm before the pandemic - but in front of a camera and makeshift teleprompter.
Since only virtual graduation ceremonies are allowed during the pandemic, Bañaga shared that the bulk of their time is now used on pre-production - recording videos, compiling photos of graduates, and editing for their audio-visual presentation for the actual graduation ceremony.
"Hindi katulad ng dati, andyan lahat ng teachers. All were in their gowns, Filipiniana. Ngayon, ang mga teachers, they also came here pero naka-schedule, hindi maramihan. All them they were also in Filipiniana. Pero iyong iba, kalahati lang Filipiniana, kalahati maong shorts lang or whatever, kasi iba talaga iyong sitwasyon natin," Bañaga recalled.
The school's faculty room was converted into a "mini studio" to accommodate the recording of speeches and editing of video materials.
TLE (Technology and Livelihood Education) teacher Angelo Jabagat leads the technical team the school created to handle all the visuals needed for the graduation.
"Iyong mga students naman po, they just need to submit a picture sa kanilang mga advisers. Si adviser naman po ang maglalagay sa kanilang Powerpoint presentations nila. And kami pong technical working team ang siyang bahalang mag-edit ng mga videos and Powerpoint presentations," Jabagat said.
"Kung dati, live itong ginagawa sa mismong programa, ito po pre-recorded iyong pagtatawag ng kanilang pangalan sa kanilang mga estudyante."
This leaves the school administration with another challenge - securing the consent of parents or guardians on showing the names and photos of students, who are still minors, as the graduation will be aired on the school's official Facebook page.
"For this particular virtual graduation, we had to first seek their approval kung okay ba sa kanila na ma-post iyong pictures ng mga bata at saka iyong names ng mga bata, due to Data Privacy Act at saka iyong mga laws natin on use of social media, lalo na sa mga bata. Bawat magulang, nagpapadala sa amin ng waiver," Bañaga explained.
Doing away with the festive mood experienced before the pandemic, Bañaga said this virtual graduation's merit lies in its accessibility - as more people can watch the ceremony, a testament of the students' triumph in finishing the school year.
"Dati, limited. Only one or two parents can attend and witness. Ngayon, kahit buong angkan, kahit nasa Amerika, iyong iba nasa probinsya, nasa iba't ibang bahagi, kahit nagtatrabaho iyong mga magulang, makakapanood. Pero we requested our students to be in their uniforms so that they will feel naman the solemnity of the occasion," Bañaga said.
"This is also a reward for the students who have persisted despite the limitations that they are in, despite the very not-so-ordinary situations that they are in."
A YEAR NOT WASTED
DepEd Usec. Nepomuceno Malaluan, chief of staff of the Office of the DepEd Secretary, earlier described the past school year as "very challenging" which was completed through distance learning.
"Natapos natin despite the many challenges that we had to face, the short period of time that we had to shift into this form of learning. It is a year that was not wasted, as other might have wanted us to really just take a standstill for the last school year. So we congratulate our parents, learners, and teachers," Malaluan said in an interview with ABS-CBN News.
In her statement, DepEd Sec. Leonor Briones congratulated students, faculty, and school personnel for their commencement exercise for SY 2020-2021.
Briones said she is "honored to be part of the accomplishments and milestones" of this year’s graduating batch.
"While this historic season gave unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am confident that this new breed of Filipino nation-builders – one that has experienced unusual obstacles – will be vital in moving the country for the years to come," Briones said.
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) expressed dismay, as the government continues to "neglect" their sentiments "up to the last day of classes".
The teachers' advocacy group criticized DepEd's "turtle-paced response in addressing teachers’ demand for benefits and salaries upgrade".
"We were promised of a commensurate salaries upgrade. But what we got was a deceitful Salary Standardization Law V (SSLV). The education sector has been continuously scammed by the Duterte administration. But teachers are good at taking notes and we will not stop until we have fully collected the government’s long-standing debts," said Raymond Basilio, ACT's Secretary General.
NEXT SCHOOL YEAR
DepEd said it will carry with it lessons learned, best practices, feedback from the ground, and its own monitoring and assessments for improvements in the delivery of education, especially for next school year and "beyond the COVID period".
This includes the use of the most essential learning competencies (MELCs), which DepEd guidelines define as standards used by teachers to "focus instruction to the most essential and indispensable competencies that our learners must acquire".
Malaluan said the agency is also looking into lessening dependence on printed modules, addressing challenges in connectivity and gadgets for online classes, adjusting measures to assess students, and implementing "tighter quality assurance of modules".
"At nakita naman natin na may mga nakakalusot, na may mga quality assurance issues, errors, etc. We believe that the time that we've spent last year and the remaining probably couple of months, within which we can still address. This will mean that we will be able to put in place tighter quality assurance on our learning resources."
The professional development of teachers is also a priority of DepEd, through the upskilling and reskilling of teachers through the National Educators Academy of the Philippines.
"Among these professional development programs now is a scholarship program that we have for more than 2,000 teachers for graduate programs to be provided by PNU (Philippine Normal University), in cooperation with other normal schools around the country," Malaluan said.
SY 2020-2021 began on October 5, 2020.
Classes were supposed to end on June 11, based on the school calendar released by DepEd in October 2020.
But it was moved to July 10, after the agency released amendments on the school calendar in March 2021 "to allow schools to implement intensive intervention and remediation activities for learners and to give time to teachers for the different learning delivery modalities."
In-person classes are still not allowed for basic education, while some colleges and universities have started limited face to face classes for medicine and allied courses.