A new school year starts in millions of homes

Published September 27, 2020, 8:22 AM

by Merlina Hernando-Malipot

  • DepEd overhauls the system, shifts to distance learning
  • 620,000 teachers and over 7 M parents have been trained to teach, monitor new modalities
  • 739 M Self Learning Modules printed, 730 M are ‘ready for distribution’

On Oct. 5, 2020, school year 2020-2021 will open in all public schools around the country.

There will be no sounds of chatter, laughter, shrieks of delight, giggles.  Neither will there be high-fives, group hugs, “beso-beso.”  The corridors of public schools will be empty of jostling pupils.  

For the first time in the history of Philippine education system, school will “open” in the homes of 22.44 million public school students. Most of them will work on the printed Self Learning Modules (SLMs) distributed by the Department of Education (DepEd) while others will be sitting in front of laptops, desktops, iPads, or smart phones to attend online classes. Some will be viewing lessons shown on the television, and others will listen to radio-based instruction.

At the ringside seats watching history unfold will be many parents who will be sitting somewhere in the room with their children — and DepEd officials who will be monitoring the start of the blended education-distance learning system.

This school opening will be historical on two points: it will be the first time that school opens not in June but in October — after several controversies and two postponements. And it is the first time there will be no face-to-face classes for millions of students. Learning, at this time, will essentially be home-based through various alternative delivery modalities.

The new educational system is the result of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.  After the enhanced community quarantine was imposed over Luzon island in March, things did not look like school would be like the old days.

Despite the challenges, DepEd made a stand and Education Secretary Leonor Briones announced that, “education must continue.”

As a response to the disruptions in education brought by COVID-19, DepEd released its Basic Education-Learning Continuity Plan (BE-LCP) in May.

DepEd Undersecretary Atty. Nepomuceno Malaluan said that the BE-LCP was developed to “provide guidance to the department on how to deliver education in this time of crisis, while ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of all learners, teachers and personnel of DepEd.”

One of the key components of BE-LCP is streamlining the K to 12 Curriculum to the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs). DepEd Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Antonio said that for this school year, the total number of competencies in all learning areas has been streamlined to 5,689 from the original 14,171 – practically a reduction by 60 percent.

(MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Alternative learning delivery modalities

Without in-person classes, distance learning became the most viable option for DepEd. Briones explained that the BE-LCP outlined multiple learning delivery modalities – with blended and distance learning as major options.

“Distance learning is not new to DepEd,” Briones said. “We have existing Alternative Delivery Modes (ADMs) in the formal schools, which are not confined to online or digital platforms,” she explained.

The BE-LCP offers a menu of options or learning delivery modalities. These include face-to-face, distance learning, blended learning, and homeschooling. Briones said that the BE-LCP can be “contextualized” by the regions and the schools can “blend” or blend two or more of these learning modalities to cater to the needs of their students.

Blended Learning

Blended Learning, as explained by DepEd, “allows for a combination of face-to-face, online, and modular learning delivery.” Since President Duterte instructed DepEd not to allow face-to-face classes, parents and students were asked to choose among the other options.

Distance learning

Should they choose Distance Learning, lessons will be delivered through modules (both printed and offline), online platforms, and educational programs through television and radio-based instructions. For DepEd, this is the “most viable for independent learners and learners supported by periodic supervision of parents or guardians.”

Home schooling

Another learning delivery modality is Homeschooling which provides children “with equal access to quality basic education at home to be facilitated by qualified parents, guardians, or tutors who have undergone relevant training.” Currently, this policy is being reviewed by DepEd.

Most popular choice – Self Learning Modules

DepEd said that the “most popular choice” of both parents and students is the printed Self Learning Modules (SLMs).  Thus, the availability of printed modules has become the most pressing and recurring issue concerning the school opening.

DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Annalyn Sevilla said that funds were made available to reproduce SLMs. “We have downloaded funds down to division offices, totaling about P9 billion already,” she added.

Learning materials printed

With the curriculum and learning delivery modalities finalized, Malaluan said that learning resources are also being completed. As of Sept. 13, DepEd data showed that a total of 739,372,098 SLMs have been printed and of this, 730,739,147 SLMs are “ready for distribution.”

Malaluan explained that there are a total of 25,602 schools that have distributed the SLMs to the learners. “The distribution has started as early as June 4 and will continue until the opening of classes next month,” he said.

620,000 teachers trained  

DepEd has also trained more than 620,000 teachers and over 7 million parents on distance learning modalities to help them adjust and cope with the new ways of teaching and learning. To see how distance learning works, dry-runs for blended learning were also conducted by around 31,000 schools.

Enrollment – 24.63 M

As of Sept. 25, DepEd said that the enrollment in both public and private schools for basic education has reached 24.63 million or 88.70 percent  of the enrollment in SY 2019-2020.

Of this number, 22.44 million students have enrolled in public schools and 2.13 million in private schools. For DepEd, the current enrollment turnout is  “very inspiring and encouraging.”

Challenges

While distance learning is nothing new, Briones said that the scale of deployment of these alternative learning modalities is something that the agency has not encountered before.

“Now is the first time that these will be employed on a large scale,” Briones said – thus, key operational challenges in implementation and other issues are being encountered.

Financing the new system

One of the biggest challenges of DepEd this year is financing the BE-LCP. Sevilla said that DepEd has to realign its own budget. “In DepEd, we need to shift or we are now doing re-calibration of budget because COVID-19 has a really big impact on how we operate,” she explained. 

Without face-to-face interaction, Sevilla said that DepEd has to invest in communications devices and requirements to ensure that operations will not be further disrupted. DepEd also needed to set aside a budget for learning resources and for the training of teachers – among others. 

False information

However, Briones said that the biggest challenge for her is communication. “There is so much false information circulating, there’s so much false news, there’s so much alarmist views being circulated, and it confuses the parents, it confuses the schools, it confuses the learners,” she added.

School opening challenges

Many groups have been calling for an “Academic Freeze” or the suspension or cancellation of the academic calendar and non-admission of students across all levels, believing that the system is not ready to open schools amid the pandemic.

A petition in change.org to “cancel” the academic year 2020-2021 is still posted. As of Sept. 25, there are 262,993 signatories. The petitioner is targeting 300,000 signatures.

Youth group Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK) is also among many organizations campaigning for an “Academic Freeze” until January saying this is the “most humane option which considers the right of all students to a quality and accessible education without sacrificing teachers and workers’ livelihoods and students’ health.”

Due to “obvious lack of infrastructure and capacity of the school system for distance learning,” the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) also agrees that the SY 2020-2021 opening may be “moved to January 2021.”  

Private schools oppose ‘academic freeze’

However, the private education sector has expressed opposition to the calls of delaying the school opening further.

With about 3,000 members, the Federation of Associations of Private Schools and Administrators (FAPSA) said that this would ultimately kill private schools that have been “fighting for their survival.”

The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), composed of more than 2,500 educational institutions in the country, said that the “freeze will only delay the problems and, in fact, would have more compounding effects on children.”

No to Academic Freeze — Briones

DepEd has outright dismissed calls for “Academic Freeze.” Briones said that the Philippines has become the last country in Southeast Asia to open schools amid the pandemic.

Malaluan added that position is also “short-sighted” and “ill-informed” because it does not take into consideration the prolonged interruption in the learning process of children. An “Academic Freeze,” he added, also disregards the preparations being made just to ensure that school opening will push through next month.

Are we ready?

A week before classes start, the readiness of DepEd to push through with the school opening is once again being questioned by various quarters.

To assess school opening readiness, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Philippines conducted an online survey on school opening preparedness.

The results of the survey said that while schools and teachers gave their best efforts to deliver the most minimum needs of the school opening, there are still “glaring backlogs” especially school safety, teaching and learning resources and techniques, protection of education frontliners, and installation of support mechanisms.

DepEd is ready

Based on the status updates given to her regularly, Briones said that readiness of DepEd should not be questioned anymore. “We were ready on Aug. 24 and we’re more ready for the Oct. 5 school opening,” she said.

Briones said that the Oct. 5 school opening will be a day of celebration for the Filipino child. “This day would be a declaration of victory, of continuity of education whatever challenges we are facing,” she said.

 
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