By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
With a very challenging school year ahead, Education Secretary Leonor Briones assured on Wednesday that the Department of Education (DepEd) will exhaust all possible means to ensure that no Filipino learner will be left behind in terms of education as the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Briones, in a recent meeting with other Southeast Asian education ministers, presented the Philippines’ education strategies in response to the COVID-19 global crisis.
“The first principle that we adhered to and which we are committed to, in compliance with the President’s directive is to protect the safety, health, and well-being of our learners, teachers, and personnel and to prevent further transmission of COVID-19,” Briones said during the first SouthEast Asian Ministers of Education Organization (SEAMEO) Ministerial Policy e-Forum held recently. “But at the same time, we want to ensure learning continuity, our battle cry is [that] learning must continue,” she added.
As part of the Philippines’ short and long term strategies, Briones presented the Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) as a guideline for the department on how to deliver education in time of the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all learners, teachers, and personnel of the agency.
Briones explained that one main feature of BE-LCP is the adoption of multiple learning delivery modalities, with blended learning and distance learning as major options, to ensure that they will cater to the different needs and situations of learners.
“We have come out with a variety – with a menu of options, online is not the only answer, there’s a huge debate in the Philippines on how useful or whether it is really a good way of teaching learners, so we have online, we have televisions, we have radio,” Briones said.
Amid issues on access using technology, Briones emphasized that online learning is only one option from the menu of learning modalities. “These modalities will be offered appropriately depending on the situation of the learners’ households,” she explained. “If all else fails, then learning modules are being printed so that these will be delivered in various pick-up points for either parents or the village officials to distribute to the learners,” she added.
Learning continuity amid COVID-19
With the theme “Education in a Post-COVID-19 World,” the first SEAMEO e-forum provided a platform for education leaders and experts to share their knowledge and solutions on how to manage the effects of COVID-19 on the education landscape in Southeast Asia.
Aside from Briones, education ministers from Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Timor-Leste, Thailand, and Vietnam, also shared their education frameworks and innovations to frame the new normal in education and laid out their preparations for the opening of classes in their respective countries.
Like the Philippines, other Southeast Asian countries have also adopted modular systems to deliver education while prioritizing the safety of the learners. All ministers said that their respective governments are implementing various education strategies to ensure that learning will continue even during the pandemic.
Singapore, who ranked second in all subjects among 78 countries in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), has continued to operate its schools amid the pandemic and is now starting the third term of classes.
“I think the basic choice before us is this – COVID-19 will be with us for some time, a year, and likely longer, until a vaccine is found,” Singapore education minister Ong Ye Kung stated in his speech. “We cannot afford to keep schools closed for such a long time [because] it has a significant long-term impact on our children,” he added.
Ong noted that missing out on school inflicts a tremendous social and human cost. “Studies have shown that it can set students back for many years, even into adulthood,” he said. “So we must try our best to save the school year, this and the next one, by keeping schools open but safe,” he added.
Despite the challenges the education sector is facing, Ong said there were good things that came out from non-face to face strategies. “It has been a tough period for every school system in the world but there is a silver lining in every dark cloud,” he said. “School systems in many countries have had to adjust to blended forms of learning in response to the pandemic, using the Internet, TV, and even radio, as alternate platforms for students to gain access to education resources,” he added.
At the end of the forum, the ministers also adopted a joint statement in the historic first ministerial e-forum as they shared the progress made in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
As they recognized the efforts made by the educators and education stakeholders in member countries, the ministers expressed hope that by sharing education strategies, “no Southeast Asian learner is left behind” especially in these unprecedented times.