Facing the new school year with a new phase of challenges

Published September 14, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin


Each new school year brings with it a different set of hopes, goals — and in these tumultuous times — challenges that were unheard of in past school years. This academic year, like last year, is starting in a peak of a pandemic, which has forced the Department of Education (DepEd) to once again implement a blended or distance learning setup.

This kind of learning is the best that the DepEd can come up with. Students learn their lessons via multiple learning delivery modalities — via print, online, television, or radio. A combination of any two or more modalities constitutes “blended learning.”

Even with the setup, the DepEd has said it was “encouraged” to see the rise in the number of enrollees. In fact, the agency revealed that the number of students who enrolled for school year 2021-2022 has breached the 24 million mark based on first day of classes in public schools.

A DepEd official reported that this upward trend is an “indication not only of our learners from last year continuing this year, but also that some of our learners who opted to skip last school year are coming back.” Of the 24.6 million enrollees, 23.2 million are enrolled in public schools, 1.4 million in private schools, while at least 41,000 in state and local universities and colleges offering basic education.

Amid this encouraging news, there are groups who have contradicted DepEd’s readiness, insisting that concerns and problems about distance or blended learning are still “unaddressed.” Two groups, the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) and the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), in separate statements, raised concerns and feared that the new school year might be just a “repeat” of the previous one. They noted that many students and their families still cannot keep up with the online requirement of distance learning, especially those that have lost their livelihood due to the pandemic.

On the first day of school opening, students vented online, allowing the hashtags #PagodNaKami and #AcademicBreakNow to trend on Twitter. Aside from calls for academic break, some netizens are also urging the government to provide concrete plans for the safe resumption of face-to-face classes at all levels.

The DepEd seems to be listening at this stage. On school day opening, it announced that enrollees would still be accepted until the end of September. The agency also said that there is a proposed face-to-face pilot run for Kinder to Grade 3 students, supervised by medical experts. This, as DepEd hoped, will be “done in areas with minimal risk and in coordination with the prescription of the Department of Health.”

Whatever the intended outcome of the new academic year that the DepEd plans it would be, one can only hope that the initial mistakes from last year were addressed and improvements were generally implemented. If not, the pandemic would not only mean lives lost from the virus, but would also lead to a”lost year” of learning, making students academically ill-equipped for the challenges of the future.