“It is the youth that has been victimized from this failed flexible learning. Yet, they are being called ‘confused’ for the struggles they have to contend with.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Grade 12 student David has been attending his classes for the past months through his phone’s four-inch screen. He enjoys studying – being among the top students – but on some days, he wants to quit.
“I have to learn on my own. It is more difficult compared to face-to-face classes when we have teachers to explain, or clarify the lessons,” David, who is from Sta. Cruz, Laguna, told Bulatlat in an online interview.
As a student taking the Information and Communications Technology academic strand, David writes his computer programming codes on paper and sends the photos to his teacher via Google Classroom. Their teacher will then run it for them and tell them if the codes were right.
David, who would soon be going to college, is not the only one burdened with this difficulty.
Filipino students have been grappling with their online classes for the past months. Lack of proper gadgets and poor connectivity add up to the difficulty of understanding lessons.
For youth activist Raoul Manuel, it seems that the Commission on Higher Education is also struggling with their “connection” to the real situation on the ground.
Early this week, CHED Chairperson Prospero de Vera III drew flack following his statement that “flexible learning is here to stay.” In what appears to be his attempt at clarification, he said in a television interview that he does not understand why critics “still don’t know the meaning of flexible learning.” He further claimed that “maybe they [critics] refuse to understand the meaning of flexible learning because they want to criticize the government.”
De Vera said in another interview that schools cannot open and conduct “full face-to-face” classes because of the raging pandemic. It is not safe, he said, to have 40 to 50 students in one room.
Such cluelessness on the situation on the ground, said Manuel, is disturbing as it goes to show the height of the commission’s insensitivity and inaction on the plight of the students.
“It is the youth that has been victimized from this failed flexible learning. Yet, they are being called ‘confused’ for the struggles they have to contend with,” Manuel, also the spokesperson of Kabataan Partylist, said.
Manuel said the government has been romanticizing the hardships of students under flexible learning “to cover up the fact that it does not have clear plans for the safe transition to face-to-face classes.”
The education department had opted for blended learning – a mix of online and module learning – for Filipino students whose studies have been disrupted by the pandemic. The Philippines is one of the 26 countries that has yet to open schools for face-to-face classes, according to Kabataan Partylist.
In the past year, screenshots of erroneous modules went viral and teachers were usually blamed for these. But in an interview, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro argued that teachers should not be blamed as they were rushed into doing these modules and were not provided with rigid validity and reliability tests.
National Union of Students of the Philippines President Jandeil Roperos said that students have since resorted to online classes due to limitations of modules and the need to consult both professors and classmates through online platforms.
However, attending online classes proved to be challenging due to poor connectivity issues and lack of access to gadgets such as laptops, tablets, or cellphones. Also, many students had to deal with worksheets instead of self-learning modules, as promised.
“CHED should be at the forefront of asserting the gradual and safe resumption of classes, especially since this is a very urgent issue that the Duterte administration needs to address, and de Vera and the President can directly communicate particularly in cabinet meetings,” said Roperos.
Instead of listening to students’ concerns, De Vera went as far as warning “critics” to stop agitating students and teachers to make them lose confidence in flexible learning. The CHED official said students are already “suffering from things beyond their control.”
Roperos countered that their circumstances are “not a result of external influences but from their own lived experiences of the grave shortcomings of flexible learning” and that their “tireless calls for academic ease, academic break, financial assistance, junking of fees hikes, and other such related calls are a manifestation of the worsened gaps in education.”
Citing a study by UNESCO Asia Pacific, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago pointed out in her privilege speech that schoolchildren from poor communities are suffering the worst and were further disadvantaged by the proverbial new normal amid the pandemic.
Teachers are also suffering from this blended distance learning mode, with CHED having yet to assess comprehensively the situation of teachers and students under the so-called “new normal.”
Castro, who is also the Assistant Minority Leader, said that, “many have called for academic ease due to the mental, physical and financial strain that the flexible distance learning required from the students and teachers. What has CHED done to address these concerns for the next school year?”
What gov’t must do
Elago believes that a thorough risk assessment and evaluation of the public health situation in communities must be conducted as the government prepares for safe face-to-face classes. She added that families and communities must be assisted in order to increase their capacities and abilities to conduct their own risk assessment to guide them in their decision-making.
“More than classrooms, it’s a matter of conducive learning spaces. Not everyone shares the same healthy environment for learning continuity. There’s no flexible learning without clear options for all and basic support for the marginalized,” said Elago.
The lawmaker stressed the importance of clear guidelines that will help in the multi-level coordination of local government units and educational institutions in planning, preparing, and funding safe and gradual opening of schools and the return of face-to-face classes.
Castro, for her part, said that CHED should also look into areas considered as zero or low-risk areas as far as the pandemic is concerned. These areas may be allowed to have safe face-to-face classes. CHED, too, should do its part for a faster vaccine rollout for teachers and staff, she added.
Roperos said that the CHED must conduct a data-driven approach as they prepare for the gradual resumption of classes. This should include immediate assistance to struggling students, inclusive consultations, to name a few.
She added that for CHED to say that the ‘students and teachers are adjusting’ to flexible learning is a big cover-up and denial of the failures of the current mode of education.
“CHED should fulfill its mandate of promoting quality higher education and ensuring access to it. We strongly urge CHED to heed the calls of the students and express utmost concern for our welfare,” the NUSP leader said.