The price for children is not right

Published September 15, 2020, 10:00 PM

by Milwida Guevara

The GDP (gross domestic product) can only measure numbers.   It tells us how much incomes and expenditures have fallen.  The GDP decline could be easily be doubled if we add what children would lose because they are unable to go to school.

We clap our hands and laud the efforts of Mayors Rex Gatchalian of Valenzuela and Vico  Sotto of Pasig who provided a tablet for every student.  Their city governments spent heavily to broaden access of schools and homes to the Internet.  But how many LGUs can replicate their initiatives?  Certainly, not many — not for lack of concern for children, but because of inadequate resources, and topography. 

Many areas in the country do not have cell sites and electricity.    

But more than access to gadgets, tablet, and the internet, distance education is hamstrung by substance and content.  The development of learning modules, on-line, off-line or through printed materials, is a new terrain for teachers (and for many of us who are used to face to face interaction). It takes more skills, dexterity and creativity to engage children without close interaction and guidance.

Just take the development of reading skills. Children have to imitate how letters are sounded by their teachers.  They have to watch the movement of their teacher’s lips and their facial expressions.  The teacher guides them to put these sounds together to form syllables, and words.  And the most difficult of all, is developing their ability to comprehend.  This involves using body gestures, providing contextual clues through examples, and definition.  In contrast, many children learn by rote, i.e. adults ask them to say the word after them, or they translate the word into their native dialect. This why children do not become independent readers.  It takes great skill for a mentor to help children learn, i.e. to find patterns, detect similarities, connect relationships, and formulate rules from their discovery.

Another skill that needs to developed well is mathematics.  I listened to one parent relate how she guides her child to memorize the multiplication table.  By forcing our children to memorize number operations, and theorems in geometry, we are predisposing them to hate math.  They fail to appreciate that math is discovering relationships and logic.   The love for math starts with understanding numbers with the use of concrete objects and grouping them by sets.  Math becomes fun when children are able to associate numbers with a set of objects, to understand that addition is adding different sets together, and that division is dividing a group of objects into subsets.  Teaching is a science and an art.  The science is learned in universities.  The art is learned through teaching with a heart.

Teachers are trying their best to translate lessons into written form; but, with great difficulties.  Oral communications is different from writing one’s thoughts clearly and simply. In addition, teachers will not be able to give immediate feedback and remediation in cases when the children find the lesson difficult.  This task is now delegated to parents who approach such responsibility with trepidation.  Our virtual interaction with parents made us better understand why they find this new role difficult.

We have discovered that many of them are single parents and have to earn a living for the family.  Many mothers have joined us from abroad.  Our session with one mother was constantly interrupted because she was at the beck and call of her employer.  A father who serves as a security guard joined our workshop in secret because when he was on duty at a mall.  These parents have the purest intention to help their children, but can only do so from a distance, or in the evening. The fear of other parents stem from their inability to guide children because of inadequate education. 

Prior to the pandemic, the access of children to quality education was already inequitable.  Studies show that 5 out of 10 families are deprived of basic education. The household heads of 42% of poor families have little or no basic education.   The average enrolment rate for the bottom 10% of our families was less than 55%.  This inequality will be heightened by distance education. 

Studies made by American universities show that children from the top 1/3 of families will make gains in reading. They have access to resources and have parents who can closely supervise them.  But other students will lose a third of their progress in reading and half of their progress in math because of distant learning.

We should take inspiration from the many cases of parents who reach out to parents with greater needs.  They share their internet access, lend them gadgets, share their books, and volunteer to help children of OFWs and working parents. 

May their inspiration lead us to reach out and help children in our own communities. 

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