Toward learner-centered education: Lessons from pandemic

Published May 28, 2021, 12:26 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Thanks to digital transformation, social communication has enabled and facilitated meaningful engagement between the governors and the governed. This was demonstrated earlier this week in the interaction between the Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and college students.

In a webinar held last May 21, the CHED Chairman said that flexible learning would be the norm as “there is no going back to the traditional, full-packed face-to-face classrooms.”

Within three days, the hash tag #NoStudentLeftBehind went viral on Twitter with 12,700 tweets followed by a similar tweet on #LigtasNaBalikEskwela (“back-to-school safely”).  Here’s a sampler on typical comments shared in social media, quoted verbatim:

“Online class is draining, modular class is nerve-wrecking, and motivation to pursue is fading;” “You keep telling that this blend(ed) learning is effective, but we all know it is not. We are just doing this for compliance and we don’t want to be left behind. The government must strive to go back to normal and not to implement and stick to a new normal;” (attending online classes) “robbed too much energy. Physically and mentally draining, pursuing a course in flexible learning throughout is something we should not normalize.”

In response, the CHED Chairman said that “we have been doing flexible learning for one year now and it seems that many still don’t understand the definition.” He pointed to the apparent misunderstanding that flexible learning is the same as virtual or online learning.  He said that the CHED’s policy decisions are anchored with “conditions on the ground” as the protracted pandemic evolves through various phases of quarantine and lockdown.  Online and offline methods could be combined, recognizing that in many parts of the country, internet connectivity is spotty.

To illustrate, the CHED has already authorized 64 higher education institutions offering medical and allied health programs to conduct face-to-face classes.  Evidently, skills like tooth extraction (for aspiring dentists) and dissecting a cadaver to understand human anatomy (for medical students) could not be taught effectively online. A second phase of back-to-school authorization is being eyed for engineering, information technology, industrial technology and maritime programs for aspiring seafarers and deck officers.

The CHED Chairman emphasized further that school campuses might have to be retrofitted to assure good airflow.  Continued practice of health and safety protocols such as mask-wearing, frequent hand-washing and physical distancing would have to be maintained, as and when these are deemed to be essential. In-person learning will resume once the COVID-19 situation in the country has improved — and this would also be dependent on the progress of vaccination and the attainment of herd immunity.

The pandemic’s most salient ‘teachable moment:’ Education needs to be learner-centered.

What matters most is to ensure that learners — whether in grade school, high school or college — are given the opportunity to learn effectively.  Teaching and learning methods need to be re-engineered to ensure optimum transmission of knowledge. Parents and community leaders also need to step up as stakeholders in shaping the quality of education that affects the nation’s future.