As the Philippines is being hampered by the current pandemic, almost all sectors of the country have been hampered as well. This includes having an economic struggle as well as the chance of suspending one whole school year. However, the government has mandated to resume the school year at a later date, and cancellation of the school year is not an option. But with all the restrictions as well as the risks involved when going out while we are experiencing a pandemic, how will the students adapt to a different form of learning?
Online Learning Trials
As the resumption of classes in the whole country resumes on August 24, both the public and private educational institutions are scrambling for procedures (and sometimes means) to adapt to the government mandate – limited to no face to face to classes until a vaccine for Covid-19 is discovered.
“We initially did not expect anything much from this online school”
One family enrolled their 3-year-old daughter to a summer online school to somehow get the feel of what it will be like in the actual school year when this distance learning gets fully implemented in the coming months. “We initially did not expect anything much from this online school”, the father said. “Considering our daughter is just 3 years old, the feel of the learning would be some sort of play and learn set-up and we expect to just have some sort of an actual experience of this newly proposed learning platforms and mandates”. With that kind of expectation, the parents sort of thought that this is not something that would truly enrich their daughter’s learning skills or even broaden her knowledge.
The summer school was slated for 12 weekdays and a session lasts for 40 minutes. Two teachers were tending a group of 6 kids aged 3-5 years old. The second teacher serves as a back-up and helps out specifically during activities that require some interaction with the kids. One notable point is that at least one parent or guardian sits beside the kid most of the time to assist and asks the student to pay attention to what the teacher is saying whenever he/she gets distracted to something or somewhere.
The overall experience of this summer school program provided a mix of reactions for the parents. “We as the parent or the guardian have to somehow attend the classes with the students”, the mother said. “We have to make sure they pay attention to the teacher while they are talking”. Contrary to a face to face set-up, it will be a responsibility for the teacher (or sometimes the co-teacher) to ensure the students pay attention to the lectures, which is a tough task considering the age of the students. The homework will be something that the parent or guardian has to deal with as well. The school provided a learning module that has designated materials to be used for each homework. It has to have guidance from an adult as some of the homework requires adult help or supervision.
“Well, it has to have more parent or guardian’s supervision or participation in helping a student learn while staying at home”
So how did this online learning trial fare with the aim to become the main learning option? “Well, it has to have more parent or guardian’s supervision or participation in helping a student learn while staying at home”, the parents agreed. Unlike the usual learning set-up, more or less 80% of the learning comes from the teacher, and the remaining will just be follow-up from the parent or guardian at home. In this new manner, it would probably 50-50 between the two.
While the learning manner is already a challenge, a countrywide infrastructure problem has to be faced as well.
Facing up the challenges
1. Internet Speed and Coverage
The Philippines ranks #5 on the list of Internet connection speeds in the South East Asian Region. Out of 207 countries tested, it ranks #94 with just an average of 6.05 Mbps. Countries on rank 66 to 1 has at least 10 Mbps internet connection speed.
The proposed distance learning includes Web conferencing (such as the summer online school trial program mentioned) that features a teacher lecturing live in front of his / her students via a web conferencing platform/software over the Internet. The above table shows it needs to have around 4-9 Mbps of Internet speed at the least, and it will need to increase its bandwidth as more and more people will join the conference. With the current situation of the Internet speed in the country right now, having a seamless lecture on 40 minutes to a 1-hour time frame per subject would be a very tough task. Students would definitely be easily distracted from the occasional to frequent video screen hanging or chappy sounds along the way.
Internet connection reach is also a concern in this situation. In the 2019 study, there is only around 70% 4G reach of Internet signals all over the country. This signifies that students who live within the 30% of the area where a mobile Internet connection is not reached will not be able to go to school if online learning will be mandated exclusively for this school year.
2. Supply of Gadgets / Laptops
Let’s face it, not all students (specifically the ones enrolled in public schools) do not have the means to buy their own gadgets or laptops for them to use. Even teachers do not have extra savings to buy such gadgets for their professional use.
The above glaring statistic shows that there are still around 27% of families in the whole country that are still hovering within the poverty line. While this statistic does not show the true numbers of actual students who cannot afford to pay for gadgets for school use, this is an accurate baseline on how much of them will be left out if online learning will be 100% implemented.
Though there are quite a number of donation drives being initiated and are being encouraged by the government in exchange for perks, the above mentioned technical specifications are still usable for individuals and are also expensive. Some of the typical prices per technical specs as follows:
- Laptop (1.6 GHz processor) – Php5,665
- Tablet (Quad-core, 1.3 Ghz processor) – Php 3,344
- Smartphone (Octa-core, 2.0 Ghz processor) – Php6,198
Now the Department of Education is pushing for the so-called blended learning and claims they are now ready for its implementation. This move aims to diversify the learning options that do away from the face to face classes and will be different from online classes. The proposed learning options are the following:
- Modules – printed copies of learning curriculum much like books
- TV / Radio – much like youth / education oriented shows
With this development, the government seemed to have acknowledged the great challenge in implementing 100% online classes or learning and provided more ways to encourage learning at the comforts of the students’ homes. They are even looking at allowing the face to face classes in a limited capacity in some areas.
Because of the pandemic, we are now scrambling for time to continue learning of our students without jeopardizing their health. Distance learning is really a tough move to implement and even harder considering the time frame. But, if we look at some words of encouragement “Never stop learning“? It is a growing principle that a lot of us hold on to no matter what.
Indeed there is a challenge of the attention span of students staring on a screen for so long ending up not learning anything at all. It is already evident in traditional face to face classes and it will be more evident in online classes as well. However, since using the Internet is the number 1 hobby of Filipinos (rank #1 against the world, spending ~10 hours a day), is it possible that that time can be used for learning?
Apparently some people did it already:
- The Filipina from Makati finished 20 online courses during the lockdown
- Learning a language just by watching Youtube
- Learn cooking, carpentry, plumbing, or even dressmaking by just watching tutorial videos
This means that with the right mindset and means, anyone can still learn. It won’t hurt to try this new way of learning especially now that the government is already open for other ways to conduct classes to make way for blended learning. After all, most of us have learned in one way or the other using some form of media other than from our teachers. We’re pretty sure quite a number of kids who watched Sesame Street and learned to count from Count Von Count? Or learned a new way of singing the Alphabet song in the show ATBP: Awit, Titik, Bilang at Iba pa. How about learning basic chemistry in Sineskwela or learn paper and color art in Art Angel?
Nowadays, all the kids are glued to social media by way of the Internet, and they are heavily influenced or even learn from all they see. Now that it is mandated to use the Internet to learn as a substitute for face to face classes, maybe it is high time to use that opportunity now.