What’s next for education?

online learn

The education landscape will change in the next 12 to 18 months — while we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine. In-classroom instruction will not be possible with physical distancing being practiced. Testing will also be challenged — I can’t imagine how the University of the Philippines will conduct its annual UPCAT exams nationwide with more than 100,000 applicants every year.

When the pandemic was announced by the World Health Organization, several tech companies offered free access to their services. Zoom.us is one of them, offering K-12 schools, teachers and students, free access. Educational institutions jumped in to get full licenses to avail of the full features of Zoom.us. Due to the popularity of Zoom, security researchers (thank you for doing this) exposed the security and privacy vulnerabilities of the platform. Zoom quickly acknowledged and rapidly scrambled to fix the vulnerabilities. As I type, Zoom is still working on the vulnerabilities. The outlook, however, looks good, with Zoom’s CEO pledging to making the platform better within 90-days. This is a win for consumers. (and no, it is NOT malware, contrary to what PLDT says).

Video conferences can be used to substitute in-classroom discussions, to an extent (of course, the student-to-student dynamics is lost). However, learning is not all discussions. Other digital tools, such as learning management systems (LMS), can help as well. I use Canvas (with a free account) as my preferred LMS for my classes. Teachers can have all their materials on their LMS, do online text-based discussions, and even do online exams. There are plenty of digital tools available for educators to deliver learning.

However, if you are a teacher and have not done anything like this before, you are in for a ride. Shifting to a new paradigm of delivery is not easy. Whilst your materials can be shared online, and your discussions can be done via video conferences, your assessment will need to change. You cannot do testing the way you do it in-person. Translating it online simply does not work. If you are migrating your tests and expecting students not to search the internet for answers, you are doing it wrong! As we Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs) and other EdTech folks say, ask questions that cannot be answered via a DuckDuckGo search (yes, I don’t use Google). You need to explore other ways of assessment.

Whilst educators migrate to this new reality, one thing that needs to be addressed is the digital divide. This is far more important than any technology that you buy, deploy and use. What happens to those who do not have devices and decent internet connections to access and take advantage of these digital resources? Will the major mobile service providers, Smart and Globe, start offering affordable plans for students and teachers? Can Apple, Google, Microsoft, Canvas, Zoom, among others, help subsidize the devices and internet connections of teachers and students, without violating students and teachers’ privacy unlike what Facebook is doing? Yes, Facebook is a privacy invader — do not trust it!

The most important thing is no student should be left behind — how are educational institutions addressing this? How are educators preparing for this? How is the government preparing for this?

Suggestions for the Department of Education

Along with ‘social distancing’, the term ‘homeschooling’ is now popular. Perhaps the Department of Education (DepEd) will start recognizing the independent homeschoolers now. Almost every student is being homeschooled — by parents, grandparents, siblings and/or guardians. DepEd should start investing on equipping independent homeschoolers. For instance, their current assessment tests only cover K-10, with no facility for homeschoolers to get assessed for grades 11 and 12! This should change.

In addition, the Department of Education should start re-training their public school teachers to enable them to use educational technologies. Without realizing it, the problem of lack of classrooms seem a non-issue right now. However, learning must continue at home. Teachers can still continue assisting in the homeschooler’s education via phone calls.

Lastly, the Department of Education should start delivering learning materials via analog TV channels. This, IMHO, is the most accessible medium. The government’s TV station is not enough, perhaps ABS-CBN and GMA can dedicate air time for our students, besides, with the ‘physical distancing’, it is not easy to produce live TV shows.