Learning in the new normal: A blend difficult to digest?

It has been over a year since the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupted normal life. Among those institutions that have been gravely affected is the country’s education system. In an effort to ensure that the needs of learners are not neglected in this so-called new normal, the Department of Education (DepEd) has implemented a series of adjustments, which has now been simply referred to as “blended learning.”

Although not a new concept, nothing about it has been that simple, as far as its application in the Philippines is concerned.

A pseudo-virtual approach, blended learning puts together two forms of alternative education options into a “blend,” in order to better serve students who have been forced to stay at home because of the pandemic. In a survey released in March 2021 by the Social Weather Stations (SWS), 89 percent of Filipino families with members enrolled for school year 2020-21 consider blended learning to be “more difficult” than the regular face-to-face setup. Some parents have shared that the current system, although schools provide printed materials and online support, tends to require students to study by themselves. Other mothers and fathers end up taking on the role of teacher at home, which is especially difficult for those who are not full-time houseparents.

These challenges, however, are not limited to parents and learners. Educators have also been dealing with the difficulties blended learning has presented, particularly those related to the country’s information communication technology (ICT) infrastructure, which still leaves much to be desired. A survey by DepEd showed that 87 percent of teachers who have computers or laptops have no access to the internet, with the remaining 13 percent of its respondents not having computers or laptops at all.

Experts have expressed a growing concern for the future of Filipino learners given the current education setup. UNICEF’s education chief in the country once noted that, although the pandemic has affected school systems all over the world, its effects are “even worse” in the Philippines. Child psychologists have also noted how the absence of physical interactions among students will have a long term effect on the emotional development of children.

DepEd has promised to improve its implementation of the blended learning system for the coming school year, amid calls from some sectors to slowly reintroduce face-to-face classes. The question, however, remains: Without the necessary improvements in ICT infrastructure and the capabilities of households to handle it, how effective will blended learning be moving forward?

For the sake of the future of the country’s learners—the next generation of Filipinos—the need to have a more solid and stable blended learning system is as important as the efforts to vaccinate every Filipino.