Finding ways to make distance learning better

Published September 1, 2020, 11:26 PM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

Recognizing how challenging this school year will be, a townhall meeting was organized by Rotary District 3830 on Tuesday to help teachers, parents, and students alike as they prepare to navigate distance learning.

Manila Bulletin Executive Vice President Sonny Coloma – who served as one of the moderators – explained that the townhall meeting aims to find better ways to make distance learning work for education stakeholders. “I learned that there are many programs and resources that parents, teachers, and schools can tap into,” he said.

Dubbed “Distance Learning during COVID Times: What We Can Do To Make It Better,” panelists shared their insights on the school opening this year in a meeting via Zoom. They also discussed various challenges that parents and teachers are facing when it comes to distance learning and what can be done to address these concerns. 

First off, Knowledge Channel Foundation Inc. founder and president Rina Lopez Bautista explained the Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) of the Department of Education (DepEd).

Bautista, who is also part of Rotary Club Makati Premier District,  explained that Knowledge Channel has curriculum-based lessons. To date, there are more than 1,000 educational videos produced locally since 1999. “These are based on the DepEd K to 12 curriculum, culturally-sensitive, child-friendly and effective,” she added.

To address some school opening concerns, Bautista said that Knowledge Channel has launched its “School at Home” campaign, Portable Media Library, and Online Teacher Training. “We need to understand the different challenges facing our teachers, parents, and learners,” she added.

Challenges of parents, teachers

Jay Maravilla, a public school teacher in Puerto Princesa National Science High School, shared some of the challenges teachers like him face as DepEd implements blended/distance learning.

Among the challenges teachers and schools face is what blended/learning modality/ies to use, who and how to implement this/these. “Teachers are very hesitant,” he shared.

 Some of the problems that surfaced during the dry-runs, Maravilla said, include Internet connectivity as well as capacitating teachers using online learning. “The printing of modules is ongoing and some parents said that they are having difficulties budgeting their time,” he added.

Nerissa Sales, a mother of two studenrs and a part of RC Puerto Princesa Central, shared the concerns of parents particularly on the type of learning that her children will have to adopt. “Distance learning is really a big change for my children because the new school environment or classroom will be in our house,” she said. 

Aside from having to balance household responsibilities, Sales also noted that she needed to reduce her work load since “I have to be there during their sessions.” Her kids have been going to school for the past two weeks now and she admitted that “every day is an adjustment” for everyone.

Opening preparations in public, private schools

Meanwhile, Paranaque Elementary School Unit II principal Myla Velasquez and The Master’s School – Alabang owner and administrator Danilo Carandang discussed how public and private schools are adjusting to the new normal.  

Velasquez shared how her school prepares for the opening on Oct. 5. Due to parents’ anxieties, she noted that the school did not achieve 100 percent of last year’s enrollment. “We’re trying to find the remaining students before the school year starts,” she added.

Like most public schools, Velasquez said that the school is preparing Self Learning Materials (SLMs) – from printing, sorting, and to distribution.

Recognizing the important role of parents to their children’s education this school year, she explained that they reached out to them through parent conferences.

The school found out that 50-60 percent of their learners do not have the gadgets they need for online learning – thus, Project G.A.D.G.E.T. was launched. 

Carandang, on the other hand, discussed the “Bounce Back Education” initiative which also aims to teach teachers who were displaced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Digital Education Program aims to help ensure learning continuity through affordable home-based digital learning; helps teachers acquire the “necessary skills and competence as digital educators” and help out-of-school and adult learners become employable through digital skills learning.

Homeschooling as an option

Due to the ongoing public health situation, schools have been closed since March. In an effort to ensure the health and safety of their children, many parents are considering shifting to homeschooling.

Educating for Life founder Michelle Padrelanan cautioned parents on homeschooling – noting that this might not work for everyone.

“Admittedly, homeschooling is not for everyone because you need commitment – it’s not just something you start and give up halfway through,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Padrelanan, who is also part of the RC of Sunvalley Sunrise, explained the rewards and challenges of homeschooling as well as the role of parents in a distance learning environment.

“Quarantine is our opportunity to create an impact in our children’s life – make full use of it,” she said.

Since “not everything can be learned in school,” Padrelanan urged parents to take this opportunity to teach their children life skills and mold their character through various activities.

“It is our emotional support that encourages them – not the pressure,” she added. While these are very challenging times, she advised parents to keep calm.

“There are ways to alleviate stress so we can take care of our family well,” she added.

Addressing gaps in the education system

Amid the challenges, the quality of education – as well as the gaps that need to be filled – should be addressed.

Jaton Zulueta, founder and president of AHA Learning Center, explained how multimedia resources can be used under distance learning.

The learning center, he explained, has also been transforming communities through after school learning and providing support and opportunities for public school students who might be low performing but have high potential.

Zulueta, who is also a 2018 Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee, enjoined young people to share their talents and show the greatness of the Filipino spirit.

“If given an opportunity, always say ‘yes’ to service,” he added.

Reginald Nolido – who is part of the Rotary Club of Makati – also discussed the “My First Teacher Project” which aims to improve reading skills of Filipino students.

“This is a series of capacity-building modules and materials for parents of beginning readers to enable them to teach reading at home,” he explained.

“The goal of this project is to equip parents with the necessary to be able to teach reading to their own kids,” he added.

Mabel Esteban, Market Research of RC of Makati Paseo de Roxas, explained the Rotary Grants in support of education and how Rotary can help.

She also urged Rotary Clubs that are interested to re-position their district grants to do so and “we will work hard to make it possible.”

Former Education Secretary Armin Luistro also gave a message of support and encouragement to teachers and parents.

“Trust your instincts, trust your heart – you can never, ever go wrong,” he ended.