As school year ends, learning under distance education questioned

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 13 2021 02:25 PM | Updated as of Jul 13 2021 02:38 PM

As school year ends, learning under distance education questioned 1
A mother guides her Grade 2 son through his learning module, given by a school in Mandaluyong City during asynchronous learning period at their home on October 5, 2020. ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA — Paul (not his real name) finds himself surprised and pressured whenever unanswered items from his children's self-learning modules (SLMs) pile up at the end of the week. 

But Paul makes sure to guide his 2 children, who are Grade 4 and Grade 7 students in a public school in Marikina, in accomplishing the items so they would no longer add to next week's coursework.

"May 8 modules ka in a week na gagawin so kumbaga, hindi siya madali kasi ang dami ding, may mga other factor. Halimbawa, may kailangan akong gawin, hindi namin magagawa ['yong module] so maiipon. So minsan ako 'yong magugulat," said Paul, who asked that his name be withheld. 

(You have 8 modules to accomplish in a week so in a way, it's not easy because there are other factors. For instance, I have other things to do, so we won't be able to answer them, so they'll pile up. So sometimes, I'm the one who gets surprised.)

But that wasn't the only challenge that Paul and his children faced during the past year under distance learning. They also experienced being frequently disconnected from virtual synchronous classes due to poor internet connection.

"Sobrang napakahirap ng connection. Napuputol-putol in the middle of the class. Medyo hindi mo maintindihan ['yong tinuturo]," he said.

(The connection was so difficult. We kept getting cut in the middle of the class. You could barely understand what was being taught.)

It also wasn't easy for Paul's children to stay focused on online classes.

"Dahil nasa online sila, malingat ka lang, mawala ka lang nang 30 minutes or an hour, iba na ginagawa," he said.

(Because they're online, you turn your attention away for a while, for 30 minutes or an hour, after that they're already doing something else.)

Still, Paul decided to keep his children in school, not wanting to waste an entire academic year. It wasn't the same, however, for his kids' classmates, some of whom dropped out.

"Let's say nag-start sila at 40, so ngayon matatapos na lang sila, nasa 30-something na lang," Paul said.

(Let's say the class started with 40 students, now that they're ending, there are only 30 students left.)

Paul's children are among the more than 22 million public school students whose classes ended on July 10 after 9 months under distance learning, the alternative to face-to-face classes which were indefinitely banned due to the threat of COVID-19.

An official from the Department of Education gave the implementation of distance learning an "8 out of 10" rating, but teachers' groups gave the agency a failing grade and questioned the quality of education that was delivered during the school year.

"Hindi naman kami nag-promise ng perfect system (We didn't promise a perfect system). We acknowledged that there were challenges, some of them very difficult to address but I would say it's beyond mere pass," said Diosdado San Antonio, DepEd's undersecretary for curriculum and instruction, when he was asked to assess the school year.

Throughout the year, teachers, parents and students have repeatedly complained of uneven access to technology and unstable internet connectivity that disrupted online learning.

There were also reports of errors spotted in printed modules. As of June 2021, the DepEd recorded 155 errors in its learning materials, mostly from the ones developed by its field units.

Because of these challenges, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC) raised concerns on the quality of learning that was delivered through remote means.

"[Ang] talagang masusing problema na nakikita ng mga kaguruan ay 'yong pagkabahala natin doon sa isang taon na walang katiyakang pagkatuto na nakuha ang ating mga estudyante," ACT Secretary General Raymond Basilio said.

(A real key problem that teachers saw is the uncertainty of students' learning during the school year.)

"Paano magpo-proceed sa next [grade] level ang mga bata kung 'yong basic competencies na kinakailangang nakuha nila doon sa prior year level ay hindi nila nakuha?" Basilio said, adding that it would serve as a challenge for teachers in the next school year.

(How will children proceed to the next grade level if they did not attain the basic competencies that they should have gotten in the prior year level?)

In a Senate hearing last March, a presentation by Undersecretary San Antonio showed that 99.3 percent of students obtained passing marks for the first quarter.

He said the grades, which were collated from the DepEd's regional offices, were "the only way we could measure whether the learners have learned" under distance learning at the time.

TDC National Chairperson Benjo Basas, however, argued that a "passing grade doesn't translate to quality education."

Teachers have also been considerate towards students given the hardships brought about by the pandemic.

"Being considerate and being lenient, pareho 'yan. Hindi 'yan magdadala ng quality doon sa education na gusto mong ibigay," Basas said.

(Being considerate and being lenient, those are the same. It won't bring quality to the education that you want to give.)

Basilio also noted that the SLMs include the answer key.

"'Yong mga module natin, una may mga sagot sa likod (The answers are printed on the modules' back pages). You don't need to understand the lesson for you to comply with the requirements just to pass the subject," he said. 

A survey released in February by the Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality and Relevant Education found that a majority of teachers "do not think or are not confident that the competencies set by the Department of Education under distance learning are actually being developed."

San Antonio said the DepEd has yet to come up with an immediate way to assess learning losses under distance learning.

But the National Economic and Development Authority and United Nations Development Programme are already conducting research on the matter. The results are expected to come out by the end of the year, San Antonio said.

"Right now, we don't have the data to exactly say that there is an absolute learning loss or learning gain," he said.

The education official explained that the DepEd's interventions to improve its distance learning program are anchored on its own monitoring.

For its part, the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) called for an independent body that would assess the performance of the country's education system.

The advocacy group earlier sounded the alarm on a "learning crisis," which it said had been plaguing the country's education system even before the pandemic.

RESUME FACE-TO-FACE CLASSES

PBEd also remained firm in its suggestion to safely reopen schools, especially in areas with little to zero COVID-19 cases, so in-person classes can complement the distance learning modalities.

This, despite President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement that he would not allow face-to-face classes until the country achieves herd immunity against the virus.

"We are seeing other countries being able to manage the presence of the virus and the needs of their education system," PBEd Executive Director Love Basillote said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel.

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"So we don't see any reason why the Philippines can't also have more targeted, localized interventions or response to the pandemic," Basillote said.

"We hope that we actually don't just rely on purely remote on the upcoming school year and we actually have a solid plan for safe face-to-face education," she added.

San Antonio said the DepEd would continue to prepare for the resumption of in-person classes in case Duterte gives a green light.

READY FOR NEXT SCHOOL YEAR

Even without face-to-face instruction, the DepEd is "better prepared" for the next school year, San Antonio said.

"We are better prepared now, considering that we would need self-learning modules, they have been developed," he said.

"Our fellow teachers are no longer first-timers in doing this (distance learning), the parents are not first-timers," he added.

San Antonio said the DepEd would also improve quality assurance mechanisms for SLMs.

The official also said the DepEd hoped more students would shift to using digital platforms because printed materials can be harmful to the environment.

The agency has launched the Public Education Network, which aims to provide connectivity to schools in far-flung areas. 

Local governments also continue to help in providing gadgets for students in their respective jurisdictions, San Antonio said.

The DepEd has yet to announce the first day of classes for School Year 2021 to 2022, which will be decided by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said the DepEd would propose opening the school year in August, or on the first or second week of September.

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