Distance education in these pandemic times

Published August 21, 2020, 2:30 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

While the Department of Education was adjusting to the challenges of K-12 and becoming competitive, COVID-19 came so suddenly, adding an even more daunting challenge.

Distance learning isn’t new. As early as the 60’s, a number of public secondary schools had already participated in experimental delivery systems using radio-TV broadcasts. Although innovations like home schooling are allowed as per constitutional provision on encouraging such alternatives as nonformal, self-learning, and independent learning,  the traditional system,  like in most countries, still prevails.

The shift to online learning would involve drastic changes in the role of teachers and learners, affect close to two million families, and 22 million public school students. It now confronts DepEd and Congress with new logistical and financial issues but with challenging opportunities.

The major challenge is how to close the gap between the more privileged learners in urban areas, and the majority – those in the margins who have little or no access to Internet and the tools and gadgets required by the new delivery system. For this group, use of radio and TV and printed and audio-visuals, and for their counterparts in urban areas, online, with the “blended” mode or use of video and print modules.

The challenge and opportunity provided by online learning in the absence of face-to-face exchange, and the presence of a teacher and classmates, is that of building on its fundamental vision of education, the development of critical thinking and human values, but this time, enhanced, and sharpened, through use of technology that stimulates the learner’s imagination.

In other words, virtual or online learning may yet save the day for Philippine education if we learn to make use of its unique attributes. But it will require the cooperative support of everyone and the will to succeed. If what we see now which is the flexibility, willingness to take on new tasks and to work under a crisis and difficult  environment, among the top officials of education, and enthusiasm of teachers as they prepare for opening of school year, as well, which, if sustained, could demonstrate that leadership plus technology could make a difference.

I am sure experts on digital learning can explain more fully about how it can impact on our learning system by demonstrating how the technology can make learning more vibrant, alive, and responsive. By taking advantage of its unique attributes – “allowing students to access information, identify and select from a variety of choices, and customize these to suit their own needs.” By enabling technology to “empower them to be more self-directed, hone their creativity and analytic reasoning and critical thinking.” Digital tools and interactive games promote cooperation and teamwork, participation, as well as tolerance and patience. Learning technologies make it easier for teachers to manage groups.

And, it is not true that the teacher’s role is diminished, as these technologies depend upon a skilled teacher who organizes, motivates, and stimulates the learner. The teacher is still the most critical factor in bringing out the full capacities of the learner who is the “star” in the learning process. Teacher-training is therefore a key factor to the success of online learning.

Early feedback showed that most parents prefer use of printed and digital modules instead of other distance learning materials. It might help to do some assessment on preferences, learning needs, and other expectations and to assess students’ feedback on the estimated 8-hour daily schedule.

The recent training of 125 public high school teachers in Makati was one in a series of trainings made possible through a grant by Google to INCO Education Accelerator and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) which conducted the training. This grant of $250,000 which was recently announced by Google Philippines Country Director Bernadette Nacario at a virtual event where Education Secretary Leonor Briones noted that “teachers do need upskilling and upgrading.” According to AIJC President Ramon Tuazon, the funding will also cover the mobilization of 18 coaches who will train teachers on how to develop digital and printed learning materials. Tuazon, Dr.Paz Diaz, vice president and former professor at the UP Open University, Maria Sophia Varlez, director for professional development, and specialists and faculty from UP, De la Salle, PUP, Knowledge Channel, and DepEdas well as Dr. Fe Hidalgo, former DepEd undersecretary, were among the speakers/facilitators.

I opened the 5-day training by bringing the participants to what distance education was 58 years ago and how we’ve gone a long way. The training was on the philosophy of learning (from Bloom’s taxonomy to cognitive, behavioral, and constructivist), essential learning competencies, gadgets and hardware, online coaching, and mentoring and assessment. These skills and new mindsets will continue to be useful as we believe that online learning is here to stay, even during the post-COVID era.

Thus, during these dark, confusing, and uncertain times, we see some light, some assurance that all shall be well for Philippine education.

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