FOR the second year in a row, students around the Philippines had welcomed the opening of the new school year last September 13 inside their houses, instead of the traditional classrooms.
With the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, the Department of Education (DepEd) has decided to once again implement the “blended mode” of education – online classes, radio and television programs, and printed modules.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones caught peoples’ attention when she declared this year’s opening a “celebration of victories” against Covid-19.
Given that for most Filipinos, “victory” connotes that the country has finally defeated the pandemic, Briones’ statements came across as hollow, if not insensitive.
As the country once again starts the difficult job of educating its youth under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, OpinYon Laguna has decided to ask two crucial questions: are schools in the province really ready for the task; and should we go back to “face-to-face” classes, as various sectors have proposed?
According to school officials interviewed by OpinYon Laguna, the challenges the previous school year posed had given them enough lessons to anticipate this year’s school opening.
“Pinaghandaan na nila [schoolteachers] ang mga challenges sa nakaraang taon, kaya naging magaan ang pagharap nila sa mga isyu gaya ng learning materials, kahandaan ng guro sa pagututro, at health issue ng mga guro at kawani,” Edna Faura-Agustin, Biñan City Schools Division Superintendent, told OpinYon Laguna.
The Biñan City Schools Division simply reused learning modules from the previous year, while the City Senior High School made the use of digital modules that were uploaded on mobile tablets.
“Ang mga guro naman ay naka-attend sa mga libreng webinars/kasanayan para sa kahandaan sa pagtuturo sa ilalim ng new normal. Mayroon ding kumustahan para sa mga magulang upang mabigyan sila ng tamang inpormasyon ukol sa pagbubukas ng paaralan,” Agustin reported.
Meanwhile, San Pedro City Councilor Aaron Cataquiz, who heads the Committee on Education at the Sangguniang Panglungsod, said the city has taken steps to prepare students, especially those in senior high school, for the “new normal.”
“Maglalaan [ang pamahalaang lungsod] ng pondo pambili ng mga gadgets/tablets para sa mga senior high students (preferably grade 11),” Cataquiz said.
The recent inauguration of the new Schools Division of San Pedro was also a big boost for the city’s schoolteachers and education officials, he added.
“Mas magiging mabilis ang transaksyon ng mga teachers/principals to division kapag malapit na ang division office, it can save time, effort, money (transportation & representation costs), mas mabilis din ang decision-making dahil territorially proximate o magkakalapit na ng location ang principal, supervisor at superintendent,” he told OpinYon Laguna.
Still, some schoolteachers interviewed by OpinYon Laguna reported issues in the opening of the new school year.
One particular concern of schoolteachers is that the blended learning approach may not be enough to stimulate their students and engage them in their studies.
"Marami sa mga guro ang kulang ang kaalaman sa paggamit ng computer, lalo na sa pagtuturo gamit ang virtual platform," Marvin Mosqueda, a public schoolteacher in San Pedro City, related to OpinYon Laguna.
Another issue is the lack of school modules that students without access to online classes now rely on.
"Nagkulang ang module na dapat ay naibigay sa mga mag-aaral kaya ang iba, soft copy na ang naibigay," Mosqueda added.
But the biggest concern among schoolteachers, he said, is that their salaries are not enough to cover the costs of internet connection for their online classes.
"Nais sana naming mabigyang-pansin ng DepEd ang aming sahod na hindi sasapat para tustusan ang aming pangangailangan sa pagtuturo ng online classes," he told OpinYon Laguna.
"Sana rin ay mabigyang-pansin nila ang kakulangan sa modules, ganoon din ang kakulangan sa guro, dahil ang ibang mga guro, lalo na ang mga matatanda, ay nahihirapang humabol sa modernong panahon."
As more and more residents receive Covid-19 vaccines, one particular issue has loomed large: should students be allowed to go back into their classrooms?
Some officials in Laguna have expressed their doubts on the viability of returning to face-to-face classes, given the current Covid-19 surge in the province and the fact that less than half of the province’s population were vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Mahirap po na malagay sa alanganin ang ating mga mag-aaral lalo pa nga at ang buong Laguna ay nasa ilalim pa ng MECQ,” Biñan Schools Division Superintendent Agustin explained.
“Ikalawa, wala pa pong bakuna ang ating mga mag-aaral kaya para sa kaligtasan nilang lahat hintayin po namin na handa na din ang para sa kalusugan ng mga bata,” she added.
“Ikatlo po, kailangan muna naming alamin sa mga magulang kung papayagan nila ang mga anak nila sa face to face.”
However, should the national government decide in favor of returning to face-to-face classes, education officials in the cities of San Pedro and Biñan said they are now preparing for a “widespread” repair and renovation of school buildings that have fallen into disrepair due to the pandemic.
Ready or not
As it is, the government’s policy makers are clearly still in quandary whether to allow the return to the classrooms of students or not.
Simply because the government has failed in effectively containing the spread of the virus that even mutated into various more virulent variants.
As a result, despite the ill-effects on the social and psychological makeups that the online classes bring to the students, DepEd has no choice but to proceed with blended learning mode.
The obvious answer, therefore, on whether we are ready for face-to-face classes, is of course not.
And it was not the fault of the children and their parents!