The new normal for school year 2020-2021: Education in the time of coronavirus

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 04 2020 04:54 PM | Updated as of Jul 04 2020 06:36 PM

Arwin Flores, 40, shows the enrollment forms for his school-age children- Angelina, 8, and Lovely Faith, 4- as they familiarize with a smartphone in their house in a coastal community in Navotas City, June 26, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — Sometime in mid-June, Arwin Flores was contacted by one of his children’s teachers, asking if he would enroll his kids for the coming school year, which would see a change in the learning system due to the spread of the novel coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

Flores, who lives in Navotas City’s Barangay Navotas West, was instructed by teachers to get the enrollment forms from their village hall. He then took photos of the forms and sent it to the teachers through Facebook Messenger so they could encode the data and register the children for the school year.

It was one of the ways schools carried out “remote enrollment” so that learners, parents and teachers no longer have to go out of their homes, reducing the risk of getting COVID-19.

The pandemic has prompted the Department of Education (DepEd) to postpone in-person classes until a vaccine against COVID-19 is available, and implement an unprecedented distance learning plan that has been met with skepticism by several groups and lawmakers.

Flores said his 3 children — who will be in grades 10, 6 and 3 when public schools start classes on August 24 — will be studying at home through printed modules provided by the school.

But Flores expressed doubts his children could effectively learn their lessons at home by themselves, adding that he may not be able to guide them since he juggles work as a fisherman and aircon technician. His wife, meanwhile, works at a parlor in Saudi Arabia.

“Hindi po 100 percent ang kanilang interest [sa pag-aaral],” Flores said in an interview.

(Their interest in studying would not be at 100 percent.)

Lovely Faith Flores plays around while her sister, Angelina figures out the use of a smartphone at their house in Navotas City on June 26, 2020. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores added that his children may have difficulty focusing on their studies as they would rather play with other kids in their community, a dense settlement along the shores of Manila Bay.

“Dito nga lang, ang mga bata ‘pag sinuway mo, sabihin mo, ‘Huwag kang maglaro, huwag kang lumabas’ kasi bawal, talagang lalabas ‘yong mga bata kasi kumbaga, nature sa mga bata lumabas,” Flores said.

(Here, if you tell a child, ‘Don’t play, don’t go outside’ because it’s prohibited, they will still go outside because it’s the nature of a child to go outside.) 

All of Flores’ children have cell phones, which they can use for their studies and communicate with teachers, but he noted that technology has its limitations.

“Sa mga bata naman, mahirap kasi silang kumbaga, makahabol sa turo ng teacher kung sa cellphone… kagaya noong sa isa ko, mahirap pa po siyang magbasa, hindi pa po siya ganoong kahusay magbasa,” he said.

(Children have a hard time catching up with teachers’ lessons through cell phone… just like one of my kids, he still has difficulties in reading, he's still isn’t good at reading.)

Despite the challenges that he foresees, Flores chose to enroll his kids so they won't be idle for an entire school year.

“Hindi masasayang ang panahon ng mga bata,” he said.

(The children won’t be wasting their time.)

Arwin Flores, 40, lives with his four children, three of school age, at a coastal community in Navotas City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores, being a 'mananahong' or mussels harvester, lives close to his place of livelihood at a coastal community in Navotas City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores' eldest, Aljur, helps his father maintain the boat he uses for his livelihood. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Aljur, 11, is currently on school break but will be enrolling shortly for Grade 10 for the new school year. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores' other children, Angelina, 8, and Lovely Faith, 4, will also be entering Grades 6 and 3, respectively when the school year starts. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores currently has a dilemma as the public school where all three of his school-age children will enroll will have to use computers or smartphones for distance learning because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Flores uses the cellphone to capture enrollment forms in pictures and send it to the school as the first step of the school-mandated distance learning. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Angelina Flores uses a smartphone for play but will be using the same gadget for distance learning once the school year starts. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Navotas has started conducting simulations of its distance learning setup, where schools will deliver activity sheets and school supplies to students' houses with the help of teachers and barangay officials.

The education department has said it plans to tap retired teachers, education graduates, and other volunteers to call and visit students in their homes from time to time to check on the learners’ progress.

The DepEd is also planning to train parents and guardians who will supervise children's studies at home.

Similar to Flores, Merly Villasanta, a single parent from Antipolo City, also takes on two jobs to raise her four kids, who are all attending school this year.

Villasanta’s eldest is an incoming Grade 12 student who enrolled in a private school thanks to the Senior High School Voucher Program, a government financial assistance scheme. The rest — who will be in grades 10, 9 and 5 when school starts — were registered in public schools.

Single parent Merly Villasanta works on the enrollment forms for her four children using a computer with internet connection on July 1, 2020 in Antipolo City. All four of her children will be using different gadgets to satisfy the requirements of distance learning the respective schools will be implementing. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The eldest, who owns a second-hand laptop, will attend school through online learning while the younger ones will learn via printed modules, according to Villasanta.

Villasanta works as an administrative personnel at a public school in neighboring Marikina City, where she is paid around P17,000 per month. Mandatory deductions and loans leave her with a measly P1,500, leading her to engage in an online business.

“Medyo struggle din. Talagang hinahati-hati ko 'yong oras,” she said of her jobs.

(It’s a struggle. I really have to divide my time.)

Villasanta is saving up to convert a small part of their 2-floor home, where she lives with other relatives, into a learning space, which she said would be important to keep her kids focused on their studies.

“Kapag may budget, kasi may space naman dito na bakante pa... Kaso pangkanila lang. Paano 'yong sa iba pa?” she said, referring to her nieces and nephews who live with them.

(If there’s a budget for it because there’s a vacant space here… But that’s only for my children. What about the other children who live with us?)

Another struggle, Villasanta shared, is the lack of stable internet connection in their area.

Villasanta relies on data for internet access, which costs her around P500 per month. The cost, she said, goes up when she uses video-communication services like Google Meet and Zoom for work.

“Kapag umulan dito, mahina na 'yong signal,” she said.

(When it rains here, the signal weakens.)

Villasanta said she has doubts with distance learning, although she acknowledges how education officials and workers like herself are working hard to prepare for the school year.

“Kung sa school... marami pa ring hindi nagseseryoso sa pag-aaral, what more sa online learning or nasa bahay? Mas maraming mga distraction,” she said.

(If they don't take their studies seriously in schools, what more with online learning or learning at home? There's so many distractions.)

Merly Villasanta, who also works at a local public school, looks for ways to provide the needed gadgets and technological requirements for her children, as they transition to online learning. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

All four of Villasanta's children will be enrolling in the coming school year in different levels, requiring a different gadget for each. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Villasanta has converted a portion of their second floor as a home office for her and a classroom for the children, as they adjust to life online due to restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Merly Villasanta's daughter, Love, shows how she will be attending her Grade 12 classes in their home. Merly will be using the same space and computer for her online business as she finds ways to provide the needed gadgets and technology for digital communication. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Merly Villasanta's children all use mobile gadgets and share a wifi signal with five other members of the family in their home, even as they find the restrictions of poor internet connection. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Love Villasanta, right, shares something on the mobile phone with a relative, as the whole family transitions from using the gadgets for leisure into something they will need for business and education. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News


While distance education has been around in the country for years, it is an entirely new concept for many people, which is why it has been met with skepticism, said Melinda Bandalaria, chancellor of the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU).

“This is something new and somehow, it’s something you don't know much about. Siyempre nandoon lagi 'yong [of course, there's always] skepticism," said Bandalaria, who leads an institution that offers open and distance education.

Bandalaria said there is also a perception that distance education is of lower quality than face-to-face learning.

"People would equate [the] quality of education to the teacher and students being in the same classroom. For many, 'yon 'yong measure nila ng quality," she said.

For Bandalaria, quality lies in the materials that will be given to the students and the design of the learning activities.

The educator also stressed that the community has a shared responsibility to ensure the continued learning of students.

“The community could provide resources to ensure na 'yong mga bata ay tuloy-tuloy 'yong pag-aaral [that children will continue learning]--they have a learning space, they can have access to the technology,” she said.

With more than a month left before the school year opens, Bandalaria said schools should have already identified which mode of distance education — modular or online — would be appropriate for their students and prepared the learning materials to be used.

"Ang kailangan lang natin maging aware tayo ano’ng model ng distance education ang pupuwede sa konteksto, halimbawa, ng estudyanteng ito o ng lugar na ito," she said.

(What we need is to be aware which model of distance education is fit for the context, for instance, of this student or this place.)

"We don't have any choice but to be ready," she said. “We use the time that we have to be ready and to prepare for the opening of classes.”

Aside from online platforms as well as printed and digital modules, DepEd also plans to use television and radio to deliver lessons to students at home, especially those in far-flung areas.

President Rodrigo Duterte, in his report to Congress, said the DepEd is procuring internet connection for some 7,000 public schools, which is expected to be completed in 10 months.