Starting the school year right

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on September 20, 2021

Public and private schools are in the final stages of preparation for the start of classes of academic year 2021-2022 in the Philippines. Students will return to another year of either flexible or distance/module learning or face-to-face instruction.

While the Department of Education postponed the implementation of limited in person instruction for basic education in low-risk areas, the Commission on Higher Education issued a joint memorandum circular with the Department of Health allowing some higher education institutions or HEIs to reopen limited face-to-face classes, particularly in priority health-related courses.

To win in this war against the global pandemic, we will need as many health professionals as we can produce as safely as possible to be front liners and medical warriors. The fight against COVID-19 with its mutating variants and debilitating effects is not just at the global or national level. It is, more importantly, a singular fight for every child to ensure that we are not only keeping them safe but also making academic and social progress during these unsettling times.

We are going into the second full year of learning outside of the traditional classroom setup with concerns we have not been able to resolve from the first year. Rappler recently published the results of the online survey conducted by the Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality and Relevant Education or SEQuRE where a resounding majority of teachers, students, and parents agreed students learned less away from the traditional in-person instruction.

The Ateneo School of Government identified two main causes of students learning less as accessibility and mental health. Accessibility may be directly linked to the economic status of the household. High income households can afford unlimited internet and private tutors to help students learn while low income families must make the decision to buy less food and forego other necessities in order to buy internet load. Students learning through the radio or DepEdTV still face many challenges without teacher or even peer support.

Mental health is another important factor we need to address. Students, especially in the early childhood grades, need the social and mental interaction with friends and teachers to develop the skills to succeed as adults. They need the structure of a school schedule to practice study skills and develop lifelong habits.

Homeschooling parents know these expectations and are well prepared to educate their children, but not those economically challenged families who are just in survival mode. Online or module learning can be effective, but only for those who have good systems in place and those who have the maturity and learning skills to learn on their own.

For students who have no choice but to engage in module or distance learning, parents or older siblings will need to take the time to help explain concrete and abstract concepts and closely monitor the students’ progress. Families can form support bubbles with friends and extended families to schedule play dates with their children to provide that needed social stimuli.

There is no easy solution to this situation, but we need to keep looking for ways to make learning meaningful and successful for our children.

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