The last four weeks or so, we have seen how the delivery of basic education has shifted significantly from face-to-face to a myriad of forms, masked by fancy labels as synchronous (e.g. fully online, virtual classes), blended (e.g. a mix of online and face to face instructions allowed only in specific contexts), and distance modular (e.g. learner-paced learning based on scheduled learning modules, done either through paper or web-based learning management systems).
There have been significant apprehensions from different people, including parents such as myself. Firstly, there is the problem of weak internet connectivity. We all know that the technological infrastructure is not ready for a fully online learning delivery. There have been serious complaints in the past three years on the inability of telecommunications companies to deliver on their promised connection speed. Based on statistics, our country has one of the slowest internet speed across the Asia Pacific. Second, we know that not all families are connected to the internet. The Philippines has one of the lowest coverage, placing 63rd among 100 countries ranked in terms of internet inclusion. Finally, we all know that modular, online, blended, or however you call the current system of delivery of instruction during this pandemic, is never a match to face-to-face interaction in the classroom. The school has the “social element” to it – you can never run with your friends, chat in the corridors, or play hide and seek online.
In this post, I outline three reasons why I am worried about how the education of children has been delivered during this pandemic. I discuss each one of them below.
1. While parents are willing to step up their involvement in their child’s learning, not all have the capacity to do so.
We live in different circumstances, and our ability to respond as parents are never equal. Rose, who works in a bank with a husband working overseas, feels desperate that her kids, aged 8, 10, and 12, have to be left on their own devices to attend to their learning. Cesar and Jane, market vendors who have not completed secondary education, felt helpless when their 15-year old daughter asks them about algebraic notation.
We are not just talking about parents’ commitment here, but also about several other things – the parents’ ability to understand and comprehend math and science lessons, the availability to nurture and tutor kids on difficult concepts, and the time to be able to do so. No single parent has all the skills as that math teacher, that piano and music teacher, that science teacher. That’s the reason why our kids have different teachers for different subjects.
2. Instruction relies on the use of non-living screen; it reinforces the notion of perpetual screen time.
April, a single parent, told me that she regretted the fact that she had used a computer device to make up for her lack of time. It had become a “pacifier” when her daughter, Lovely, was three years old. Now she can’t wean her away from it now that she is seven and attending school. For the times that she reminds her to lessen her screen time, Lovely would retort that she is watching Youtube videos for her class.
When I watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma some few days ago, I shudder at the thought that we are feeding our kids to wolves, that would pry on their privacy, form their opinion, shape their outlook, consciously or unconsciously. The personalities interviewed in the film, all involved in the development of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, among others, put themselves and their families on a social media diet. They know the harmful consequences of using these platforms for their own lives and the lives of their kids. But the current system of education delivery puts our kids and us all the more into the algorithms that know no difference between morality and immorality, between justice and bigotry. To say that I am scared is an understatement.
3. We reduce learning to a mere exercise of downloading and uploading things; our kids reading stuff and handing in worksheets for checking.
Some days ago, three parents were in school to get the next week’s worksheets. They were discussing how they felt the learning process has been inadequate to really guide the children in learning new concepts. There seems to be an assumption that when children can download modules, watch videos, and then later on sufficiently answer the activity worksheets for the week, that learning has taken place. It does not consider a scenario where students did not read stuff but managed to get answers from classmates for the different questions asked in worksheets.
Even when teachers make learning videos for students to watch or conduct online lectures via a conferencing platform, it will not enable teachers to meet students where they are, in terms of their ability to learn. Teachers can’t go from one chair to another to check whether the learner has written the correct equation or supplied the correct transitive verb in a sentence. The teacher will not be able to see fully, how the child struggled, and provide the support right there and then. There is no chance for the teacher hen to hover over her brood.
I know we do not want where we are and are just making do with whatever options we currently have. I am not convinced that the choices we are taking are responding to the need or are the best responses in the current circumstances. I am not even sure whether what we are doing now is a better thing to do than letting this year pass without a formal class happening. And clearly, I do not have solutions.
I hope that other parents, as well as teachers, will find the time to seriously look into this issue with openness and honesty. I hope somebody will be able to start a conversation that will look into how this new system of instruction delivery, temporary as it is, is changing the lives of parents, teachers, and learners, and what we can do about it. We should be dealing with these issues with much thought and introspection. After all, it is the lives of our children that we are talking about here, and it is the future of this country which is at stake.
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