Millions of Filipino students have been fighting the same battle under distance learning for over a year now but majority of them are still struggling – making learning even harder as days go by.
Such is the case for Tracy Millena, 17, from Antipolo City. A year into distance learning, she continues to struggle in navigating and keeping up with the new system implemented by the government as a response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
“Honestly, I can’t study well in the online setup because of the amount of school work that needs to be completed – they are more than what we are learning,” Tracy, a Grade 12 student, said in Filipino.
“Even though I read the topic every lesson before answering the activities, my brain isn’t really able to absorb them well because I’m already focused on accomplishing the activities,” she added.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the shutdown of schools in the Philippines in March 2020. The opening of a new school year at the basic education level was delayed for months. Adjustments were also made by higher education institutions.
Online learning is among the alternative learning delivery modalities and flexible learning options currently implemented by the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
Due to the mandate of President Duterte not to allow the conduct of face-to-face classes until a vaccine has been found, millions of students in all levels remain under distance or flexible learning at this time.
Despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and schools starting to reopen around the world with physical distancing and health protocols, the Philippine government remained stuck with distance learning and is yet to reopen schools in the country until now.
Recognizing the struggles of students like Tracy, advocacy groups like the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) has been calling on the government to open schools in areas where the risk of COVID-19 transmission is low as the prolonged closure of schools will be “disastrous for the country’s education system and economy.”
Distance widens existing gaps in learning
Like many other high school and even college students, Tracy cannot help but be overwhelmed and anxious during these times.
Aside from having to deal with the challenges of navigating classes online, the majority of Filipino students like Tracy are grappling with unstable internet connection and dealing with a lack of direct human interaction – coming from peers, classmates and even their teachers.
Tracy shared that the intermittent internet connection would sometimes interfere with homework just before the deadline. At times, it becomes completely impossible for her to study or attend an online class due to network outage.
“Sometimes, there is no internet at all which makes going to class harder,” Tracy said. “I need to buy a load even if the data from it is not enough, or just wait until the internet is back,” she added.
For students like Tracy, education could be a lot better – especially for people like her who are graduating from high school this year.
“I am a Grade 12 student and about to graduate.” Tracy said. “I would like to step in the corners of my classroom again, and graduate in person,” she added.
Tracy said she could have been more prepared, more confident, and much more knowledgeable if she was able to attend face-to-face classes in school.
“I prefer the face-to-face set up, because the teachers are then able to teach us the lessons well, and there aren’t many activities after all,” she shared.
Aside from missing her time with her classmates, the chance to do group projects and discussions with them, and even the familiar warmth that being at her high school brings, Tracy said that the distance learning is quite challenging for students like her.
“I’m a slow learner, so it’s challenging for me and it takes me a while to accomplish school tasks because it’s hard to finish an activity when you don’t know anything about the topic,” Tracy said.
In the current online set up, Tracy lamented that she will study on her own and understand the lessons all by herself.
“There are too many homeworks to finish. The teachers keep giving us tasks, with no explanations on how to do them. I also miss the activities in school, the events like our field trips, and even just talking to my classmates,” she shared.
Of dreams and looming reality
While she acknowledges that the battle against the health crisis is real, Tracy maintained that the the “ordeal students face under a learning crisis” is also looming reality if not addressed soon.
Being the youngest among siblings, Tracy dreams to become financially successful in order to help her family.
A few years ago, Tracy’s father got sick and this brought them to a difficult financial situation. Since then, she resolved to start supporting her family as young as she is through a scholarship that she was able to secure to pursue her studies.
Tracy is looking forward to becoming financially stable someday. In order to achieve this, she believes that it has to start somewhere safe and secure – where education is the foundation that gives her solid preparation for the world of work.
Tracy tries her best to finish high school and pursue college in the hope that she will be a part of the country’s economic recovery.
As a graduating student, there is nothing more fulfilling for learners like Tracy than to walk up the graduation stage – being handed a diploma and celebrating another milestone that brings her one step closer to her dreams.