For more than a year, Filipino students have been learning in a bubble: From their homes instead of in classrooms with fellow students.
This scenario is detrimental as it degrades further the quality of learning in the country. Before the onset of the pandemic, international assessors already noted that Filipino students are lagging behind their peers in other economies in terms of math, science and skills deemed essential for thriving in the 21st century. Almost three million students did not return to elementary and high schools as their family breadwinners were displaced from jobs due to the prolonged lockdowns.
In two town hall meetings convened by Rotarians from south Metro Manila and Palawan shortly after the delayed reopening of the school year in 2020, parents, teachers and administrators shared how they endeavored to cope with the challenges of distance and online learning while staving off the COVID-19 threat.
Michelle Padrelanan, a homeschool parent whose eldest is now a college honor graduate, shared pointers on home-based learning: “Quarantine is our opportunity to create an impact in our children’s life — make full use of it.” Since not everything can be learned in school, she urged parents to take this opportunity to teach their children life skills and mold their character through various activities. She also advised parents to keep calm. “It is our emotional support that encourages them — not the pressure. There are ways to alleviate stress so we can take care of our family well,” she added.
Principal Myla Velasquez of Parañaque Elementary School Unit 2 said that quality home-based learning could be achieved by cultivating close and cordial teacher-parent relationship. When the school found out that 60 percent of their students do not have the gadgets they need for online learning, they leaned on the support of the Rotary Club of Makati Legazpi and other clubs in enabling their students to acquire tablets.
Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee Jaton Zulueta, founder of AHA Learning Center talked about the Eskwelang Pamilya program on after school learning that provides support and opportunities for public school students. He narrated how youth volunteers are assisting parents and public school kids in making learning happen by providing them with multimedia resources such as SMS and Facebook/Messenger.
Since 2009, the center has served almost 20,000 students, providing six to eight learning hours per week or from 200 to 300 hours a year. AHA’s plan to open four more community centers had to be shelved. Jaton pivoted to online resources and daily programs on DZRJ 810 AM and at Sky Cable TV Plus Channel 224. “If given an opportunity, always say ‘yes’ to service,” is AHA’s clarion call to youth volunteers.
The challenges and difficulties being faced by high school students, their teachers and parents are no less daunting – and their response has been equally dauntless and determined.
Sofia Gabrielle Romas, a 12th grade STEM student and Rotaractor at the Maximo Estrella Senior High School in Makati shared her candid views: “I am not learning less during online classes, but I feel I could be learning more face to face. Philosophy is better learned in face to face interaction. I also felt my mental health was somewhat deteriorating. Classmates had less time to talk. It takes longer for them to respond to messages. It somewhat made me feel lonely, not knowing what to do. I thrive on receiving energy from my cousins, friends, schoolmates, and friends from other schools.”
Eleanor Alfaro, Principal of Puerto Princesa Science High School shared her experience as a widow and teacher to her son in Grade 7. She realized that the blended distance learning system would work if parents and teachers faced the challenge together. She adopted a pragmatic solution to her son’s overexposure to gadgets: A limit of one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon and, in parallel, appropriate assessment of competency in school work.
Principal Juan Catalan of Cabuloan National High School in Urdaneta City, Pangasinan supervises 386 learners from grades 7 to 12. Only 16 percent have Wi-Fi connection; 68 percent use data; 19 percent have the basic phone and six percent have no gadget. He mobilized his teachers to monitor students without phones through home visitation and find a relative or neighbor who could be contacted if needed.
Juan and his teachers expressed their belief that God is only testing their love for the children under their care and encouraging them to deal with the challenges for the sake of their school and community.
Former Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro in his inspirational video said: “Parents and teachers, learning happens where there is trust and love. Trust your instincts. Trust your heart. Believe that you have the power within you to touch the learners, to transform fears to opportunities, to rename and re-imagine our world. The children trust and love you back. With love and trust, you will never go wrong.”