OPENING schools during the Covid-19 pandemic is the biggest challenge that the Department of Education (DepEd) has faced so far as countries across the world, like the Philippines, are struggling to continue education amid the health crisis.
Days before the October 5 opening of school year 2020-2021, Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones said that she is proud of the DepEd’s progress in less than six months, where “you overhaul practically the entire educational system, change the curriculum, change the methods of education, of learning delivery in a matter of months.”
She is equally proud of how all stakeholders—teachers, parents, students, school officials—have done their share just to achieve what seemed the impossible, i.e., have millions of students continue learning outside of school: from homes big and small, and even from improvised facilities like an old jeepney, an abandoned shed, under the tree or a hilltop where the Internet signal is better.
Noting the criticisms and cynicism they faced—some quarters were pushing the DepEd to abandon blended learning because it is too problematic, and simply declare an academic freeze—Briones said the fact that the school system and stakeholders were able to “respond positively is already a signal of the capacity of the department and of Philippine society, of parents, of teachers, of all of you, to be able to look and to see what might happen and how we might react to this.”
Parents drop their children’s enrolment and survey forms in boxes placed outside the Parañaque Elementary School Central in keeping with physicaldistancing measures. Among the questions asked in the survey is the learner’s household capacity for and access to distance learning, such as the availability of electronic devices and Internet connectivity.
“So, the question always is, were we ready last August 24 [the supposed schedule of the class opening]? We were ready [then]! And we are very much ready on October 5 [the final schedule] and this is a celebration! This is a declaration of victory!” exclaimed Briones in a briefing ahead of the rescheduled opening.
THROUGH its field offices and teachers, the DepEd sought to find out which among the range of off-school pedagogical modes best suited students depending on their location in the archipelago, it found out that most parents prefer the modular learning modality for their children over other options. This, based on the initial results of the Learner Enrollment and Survey Form (LESF), which showed that 8.8 million parents preferred modular, over the 3.9 million who voted for blended learning, which is a combination of different modalities: module, television and radio or radio with online.
Parents who opted for online only numbered 3.8 million. A total of 1.4 million parents preferred educational television, while at least 900,000 chose radio-based instruction. Around 500,000 or half a million parents preferred other modalities.
Sevilla gave assurances that in school year 2020-2021, there would be no sharing of Self-Learning Modules (SLMs), vowing a ratio of 1:1.
“This 2020, we already found ways [to ensure 1:1 ratio]. We realigned, re-prioritized,” Sevilla said, noting that they already utilized the Special Education Fund for the new requirements of off-school learning after local government units (LGUs) gave their support.
Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Antonio said, in an interview before the opening, that they expected the remaining 20 percent of the modules to be delivered before classes start. San Antonio gave assurances the modules are being disinfected prior to distribution.
According to Undersecretary for Field Operations Revsee Escobeo, a total of 667,673,924 printed SLMs for the first quarter of 2021 are expected to be completed as well.
The DepEd said SLMs have been its utmost priority, as modular learning is the preferred learning modality across different regions.
ACCORDING to Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan, schools were asked to conduct self-readiness assessments before the start of the school year. Those who rated themselves below 50 percent got necessary assistance, such as professional development training and physical and psychosocial support. The department’s dry-run simulations have also been ongoing for the past several months.
These determine areas of improvement and best practices when it comes to implementing the learning delivery modalities. Approximately 500 schools from various regions with diverse circumstances have already conducted these simulations, and the results are promising.
Sucao Elementary School, in the mountain province of Abra, conducted one such simulation in cooperation with the Baay-Licuan local government unit. The school gave learners transistor radios and flash drives with prerecorded lessons. The school also showcased how these flash drives can also be plugged into the radios, making it easy for learners to access their modules.
Schools under the alternative learning system (ALS) also participated in the dry-runs. Tagum city’s TAGUMpay Palengskwelahan, a learning center that offers ALS programs for elementary and secondary learners, showcased how they implemented modular distance learning and online learning by using 20 computers, e-modules and radio-based instruction.
The modules were sent to students’ homes and retrieved the week after through the DepEd’s Knowledge on Wheels mobile. The school is located in the Tagum City Public Market.
Indigenous groups in Calay IP School exhibited resourcefulness and innovation by inventing the Learning Resource on a WiFi Hub for Expanded e-learning in Sarangani (LR on WHEeLS).
Using intranet technology, access point antennas were set up in communities where learners can connect their gadgets. All self-learning modules and video lessons were made accessible on LR on WHEeLS.
Students sent their teachers messages in-app if they needed clarifications, and were prohibited from accessing social-media pages or online games to ensure that the technology could only be used for learning.
Indeed, the DepEd’s efforts showcased how continuous preparation and collaboration between education stakeholders can create a promising future for education’s new normal.
LGUs in full force
“OUR local governments, they really come in full force,” Briones noted partly in Filipino, noting how LGUs have been supportive by donating reproduction machines, mobilized supplies of papers, inks to produce the modules to public schools.
Makati Mayor Abigail Binay distributed the Learner’s Package, which includes an “On The Go” (OTG) flash drive, a device designed for offline learning of students, as she touted the city’s Learning Continuity Plan (LCP)—a product of close collaboration between City Hall and the City Schools Division of Makati (DepEd-Makati).
“The OTG flash drive is part of the Learner’s Package provided by the city to all public school students in Makati, from preschool to senior high school. It is one of the primary tools we came up with to ensure that no student will be left behind as we go through the new normal in education,” Binay said.
An OTG flash drive contains digitized self-directed modules and video broadcast editions dubbed DepEd-Makati VIBE. It can be used in different gadgets such as cellphones, laptops, desktop computers, tablets and smart televisions.
On the other hand, the Learning Continuity Plan addresses both the common and unique needs and concerns of students arising from the adoption of the blended learning approach consisting of online and modular distance learning modalities, she said.
“The plan deals with issues such as limited access to gadgets and Internet connectivity. It contains ways and means to ensure continuous learning while keeping our students and teachers safe from Covid-19 infection,” Binay said.
“It also highlights the role of stakeholders, including teachers, parents, and barangay officials and workers, in the effective implementation of all the programs and initiatives detailed in the LCP. After all, the education of the youth is a shared responsibility which requires no less than the collective effort of all stakeholders,” she added.
Profiling done by DepEd-Makati among over 78,000 public school enrollees and their parents to gauge their readiness for the school opening showed 74.9 percent have cellphones which they can use for online learning. At least 24 percent had access to a laptop, tablet, television or radio, while 1.1 percent had no access to any of the said equipment.
In her previous announcements, the mayor said Makati will provide public school teachers and students with a five-hour free Internet load daily, and will also distribute over 2,500 laptops to teachers this October.
Earlier this month, the city started distributing the learner’s package to parents and guardians of nearly 85,000 enrollees from preschool to senior high school in the city’s public schools. Each package contains printed modules, a parent’s journal, two washable face masks and one OTG flash drive. Other school supplies such as textbooks and uniforms under Project FREE (Free, Relevant and Excellent Education) were also distributed.
San Juan and DICT
IN San Juan, the city government and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) joined hands to provide all students who are residents of San Juan and enrolled in its public schools, from Kinder to high school (including SPED students) with free laptops, tablets and pocket WiFi.
“We are very fortunate to have forged a partnership with the DICT. These programs will truly benefit the San Juaneños, especially in this pandemic. Though it never occurred to me then in 2019 that digital learning will be implemented nationwide in 2020 because of the threat of Covid-19, San Juan City public school students are very lucky to have the DICT providing their needs for online schooling,” Mayor Francis Zamora said.
DICT Secretary Gringo Honasan and Zamora led the ceremonial turnover of the “e-learning package” to parent and teacher-representatives on October 1.
Higher grade level students of Pinaglabanan Elementary School received laptops and tablets with pocket WiFi as part of the DICT’s Digital Learning project. All elementary and high school students from all other public schools in San Juan received one tablet each
Zamora thanked the DICT for being a constant partner of the local government in making the lives of the San Juaneños E-Ready; this, he said, will really be helpful especially in these trying times.
“It really breaks my heart to witness the struggle of the families to survive from the challenges brought by the pandemic, many have already lost their jobs, but what aggravates their situation is how they can cope with the requirements of the new online learning scheme this year,” said Zamora.
MEANWHILE, Pasig City Mayor Vico Sotto vowed to continuously support the DepEd and called for unity and cooperation.
The Pasig LGU allocated P1.3 billion for tablets of every public school student, laptops of teachers, and ICT needs of students of the city.
Sotto said City Hall is also helping public schools in the printing of modules, Internet connection, and adapted training for teachers and parents.
“Our keywords for this season are really adaptability and synergy. Hindi po tayo papayag nang dahil sa virus ay matitigil ang pag-aaral at edukasyon ng ating mga kabataan [We will not allow our students to stop learning because of the virus],” Sotto said.
Pasig, he added, is also eyeing to strengthen its participatory governance, school governing councils, expanded local school boards, scholarship programs, among others, in support of education continuity.
Support from private business
FROM nationwide cell site rollouts to significant investments in ICT, cybersecurity and the Cloud, Globe Telecom has earnestly worked with the education sector, local government units, and businesses to build a nation that’s better equipped for a digital future.
Amid the challenges to attain such a feat, Globe carries on with its avowed main goal—to connect all Filipinos to a world of possibilities.
Globe provided free data access to the DepEd’s online learning platform at commons.deped.gov.ph to encourage educators and learners to take advantage of supplementary online instructional materials.
Globe also has its own eLibrary at globeelibrary.ph which contains more than 1,000 free eBook titles and e-Learner videos for students and teachers to view online and download offline. This platform may be accessed by Globe and TM customers without data charges.
Globe said it is a strong advocate of quality education—one of the 10 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that the company has committed to support.
With schools forced to adjust to new approaches in instruction due to the pandemic, Globe had stepped in early enough to help teachers remain effective under current circumstances and be able to deliver quality education even with limited resources available.
The telco lined up a modified series of trainings under its Global Filipino Teachers (GFT) program which covers topics delivered via webinars such as digital literacy, parental support on digital learning, responsible online behavior, effective 21st-century approaches to early language literacy, and psychological first aid.
Globe collaborated with Habi Education Labs, Teach for the Philippines and the Philippine Mental Health Association to ensure that the modules required are within standards of the DepEd and are recognized by the National Educators Academy of the Philippines.
These partnerships help teachers in their journey toward improved mental and health awareness, and in gaining essential knowledge skills on digital and blended learning as well as on functional literacy.
GFT was launched over a decade ago to equip public school teachers nationwide with skills to efficiently integrate ICT in their teaching strategies and transform ICT tools into instruments of interactive teaching and online collaboration.
“Our Global Filipino Teachers program is specifically designed to help our teachers meet 21st-century standards in terms of teaching. The program is even more relevant today with the urgent need to do distance learning. Through GFT, we provide teachers with a higher level of ICT competency, allowing them to deliver lessons to students using digital platforms,” explained Yoly Crisanto, Globe Chief Sustainability Officer and SVP for Corporate Communications.
While online distance learning which simulates face-to-face classroom setting is the most ideal alternative to the traditional setup, current reality prevents its full implementation as majority of learners do not have access to the Internet and/or personal computers or smartphones.
Thus, the DepEd is addressing the concern through the delivery of printed materials to the students, provision of downloadable lessons, and even the utilization of radio and TV to broadcast lessons. These different modalities may be combined together with online lessons depending on the situation of the students. That said, Globe is helping the DepEd prepare teachers to overcome the numerous challenges of distance learning.
PLDT and Smart
PLDT and Smart, meanwhile, provided the DepEd with a package of digital services to help support the academic sector offer continuous learning amid the challenges of the quarantine.
Briones spearheaded the call for support from the telcos in providing free access to DepEd Commons, the department’s online education delivery platform designed as alternative mode for teaching-learning process during class suspensions and other similar circumstances.
“In this time of crisis, it is important that we make it possible to overcome this challenge with solid partnerships with the private sector. We are thankful on our partners’ generosity in support of the continuity of public education by providing us free data for DepEd Commons access amid the Covid-19 situation,” Briones said.
For starters, access to the DepEd Commons site was made free to students and teachers using Smart even without data load. This gives them access to a multitude of educational resources for use in various grade levels of curriculum.
DepEd Undersecretary for Administration Alain Del Pascua explains, “DepEd Commons was designed as a direct solution to give access to online review materials and Open Educational Resources (OERs) during class suspensions and other similar circumstances.”
He said the OERs in DepEd Commons are authored by public school teachers who are subject experts, properly cited and acknowledged. Teachers can retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the content by blending it with a learning management system to deliver a distance learning modality.
“We are facing many challenges in ensuring the continuity of education especially in this extremely difficult situation that we are in. In partnership with PLDT and Smart, DepEd is steadily moving forward in bringing educational resources to the teachers and the learners wherever they may be,” Pascua said.
The package also includes 10 mother tongue-based literacy apps that can be downloaded for free from Google Play under #LearnSmart. These interactive apps help develop literacy, numeracy and higher-order thinking skills among children from Kinder to Grade 3.
“With digital learning becoming more mainstream given the Covid-19 pandemic, online teaching has come to the fore, changing the local educational climate and norms of teaching forever,” said PLDT CRO and Smart President Al Panlilio.
“Through this white-listing, concerned parties with Smart subscriptions may continue to log on to the DepEd Commons platform through a device without load credits,” he said.
PLDT has also extended its services to include free access to #CyberSmart resources that equip teachers with knowledge on cybersecurity and safety, data privacy and protection, and combating fake news.
To reach out to teachers and students who are unable to go online, Smart is also providing 10 units of the School-in-a-Bag, a portable digital laboratory designed to facilitate continuous learning in times of emergencies and disasters.
These services augment the collective bayanihan efforts of the PLDT group and MVP Group of Companies to help government agencies carry out necessary programs to control the spread of the virus and still service the general public. These include the provisioning of emergency hotline numbers and call center facilities for key government agencies such as the UP-PGH, the Department of Health, the Lung Center of the Philippines, and toll-free for calls made by PLDT, Smart, Sun and TNT subscribers to emergency hotline numbers.
PLDT and Smart are also providing free Smart Wi-Fi to different Covid-19 facilities, public hospitals and thoroughfares, and white-listed several government and news websites of the Department of Health, the National Task Force-endorsed StaySafe.ph, and the Philippine Information Agency, among others.
Recently, the PLDT Group equipped the DOST, AFP and IATF’s RapidPass Project with QR code-scanning powered by Smart postpaid lines and mobile devices.
“We believe that technology and education are equalizers of opportunities. As such, this partnership between PLDT-Smart and the Department of Education plays a crucial role in providing fair and equal opportunity in the economic and social mobility of our youth. For our part, PLDT-Smart will continue to play this role vigorously in connecting and enabling everyone in these trying times,” said Panlilio.
Save the Children
MEANWHILE, Save the Children Philippines held Humanity as One. Protecting. Educating. (HOPE) Online fundraising event in August to support the learning needs of deprived and marginalized children.
HOPE Online raised funds to provide educational supplies, age-specific learning modules, and digital devices for some 7,300 learners from poor communities in Caloocan, Navotas, Malabon, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), and Eastern Samar through Project ARAL (Access to Resources for Alternative Learning).
Atty. Alberto Muyot, Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines, said thousands of children face the uncertainty of not being able to go to school or access education under the new learning setup as poverty worsens during the health crisis.
“We are thankful to the kind-hearted celebrities and individuals for joining the HOPE Online fundraising because their contributions give hope to children and will provide them opportunities to continue their education and have a future,” said Muyot.
Don’t forget the poor, disadvantaged
E-Net Philippines, a network of 130 organizations and partners, called on the government and DepEd to address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged sectors for a safe, inclusive and quality education in the new normal.
A Grade 11 indigenous learner, 15-year-old Riza Tahuyan from the Manobo tribes of North Cotabato had worried that their teachers or parents won’t be able to bring the modules as their house is far from their school.
Professor Flora Arellano, E-Net president, noted that, “there are still 3.3 million students ‘missing’ or who had yet to enroll for this school year, as DepEd reported an enrollment of only 24.9 million students (representing 98 percent in public schools and 48 percent in private), compared to 27.7 million enrollees last year.”
“Those who were unable to enroll, including learners with disabilities, out-of-school youth, Muslim and indigenous learners, and the ‘last mile’ learners, they are the marginalized, excluded and vulnerable sectors of the education system; and will surely be left behind in the new normal,” added Arellano.
Alex Tahuyan, uncle of Riza, explained that most indigenous parents were unable to finish schooling and are focused on their livelihood; thus it would be difficult for them to assist their children under the online, blended and distance learning system for this school year.
Grade 7 student and Muslim learner Jannessah Odin, from Pikit, Cotabato, in Mindanao, explained that most Muslim learners cannot afford the technology and have no access to the Internet; and asked from the government for more funding for madrasah education programs in order to create opportunities for more Muslim learners to access education.
Public-school teacher Roland del Rosario also pointed out that the government implementation of primary health protocols for public-school teachers to carry out the Learning Continuity Plan remains “confusing.” He asked for a budget for teacher’s minimum health standard requirements, hazard and hardship pay, for education frontliners.
Weathering this ‘storm’
AN estimated 4,488 private school teachers, according to the DepEd, were left jobless with the closure of 865 private schools this year.
“We hope for any assistance that can be extended to them, the teachers and no-work-no-pay non-academic personnel, during these uncertain times,” said Dr. Joseph Jovellanos, from the Samahang Manggagawang Pilipino-National Alliance of Teachers and Office Workers (SMP-NATOW).
The group then urged the government to address the financial, technical and legislative challenges in the education sector while resolving the effects of the pandemic, including unemployment, underemployment, lack of resources and opportunities, limited access to materials needed for distance learning like Internet connection and gadgets, lack of teachers and teacher support, safety, among others.
The DepEd has promised to provide financial assistance to private elementary and high schools nationwide after some of them were badly affected by the pandemic, resulting in low enrollment.
DepEd Undersecretary Jesus Mateo said that aid grant will be provided in order for private schools to survive.
The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (Cocopea) has revealed that private schools are facing an estimated revenue loss of P55.2 billion, while some schools are already closed.
The DepEd had conducted a survey from September 25 to 28 on private school closures, displaced personnel and affected learners in SY 2020-2021.
“The response will be used for the drafting of the implementing guidelines of Republic Act 11494 or the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act,” the DepEd said.
With students set to remain at home for the rest of the school year, the Affordable Private Education Center Inc., also known as APEC Schools,
has developed initiatives such as APEC Flex to give students the capacity to learn through a homeschool curriculum.
The program offers parents flexibility around their kids’ scheduling, learning pace, modes, and more.
“What sets APEC’s homeschool program apart from others are the project and experiential-based design of the courses, as well as the additional level of support given to students through subject-matter experts and course coordinators,” remarked Mark Sy, APEC Schools’ chief academic officer.
Recently, APEC enlisted Globe as its partner for its Online Learning Program. The telco is positioned to transform face-to-face learning into a seamless digital experience through the provision of Google Chromebooks for students.
“The pandemic has brought to light the harsh reality about accessibility in the Philippines. Many communities still do not possess the digital tools they need to make education and work possible,” shared Joie Lopez, chief executive officer of APEC Schools.
“Our collaboration with Globe allows our institution to address this prevalent issue by providing students with access to affordable home Internet, as well as Chromebook laptops for rent,” he added.
APEC Schools—a subsidiary of iPEOPLE, a formidable partnership between the Yuchengco Group of Companies and Ayala Corporation—has built 22 school branches across the Philippines, with more than 15,000 learners in both junior and senior high school. Together with Globe, the institution’s pivot toward online learning has allowed its vision of centering educational practices on technology to come full circle. APEC’s modern experience-based approach to learning enables students to seamlessly adapt to a digital world, making them perfectly placed to take on the new normal.
APEC uses Google Chrome Management Console furnished by Globe to make it easy to distribute learning applications and materials across students’ Google accounts. With this web-based application and the availability of Google Chromebooks, students and parents can freely use Google Classroom and G Suite tools to participate in online classes, fulfill assignments, and seek assistance from teachers anytime, in the safety of their homes.
On the other hand, a Makati-based school iAcademy has ramped up its efforts in fully implementing flexible remote learning for its students to ease its transition to what might be the new normal for educational institutions.
Even before the pandemic, iAcademy has already been implementing technology-enabled learning by utilizing online platforms and tools like NEO and Google Classroom to deliver lessons. With the current health crisis and the policy against face-to-face classes, iAcademy decided to roll out its new approach called GOAL or Guided Online Autonomous Learning.
“When the pandemic broke, all schools and universities were forced to expedite the use of technology to deliver instruction to ensure that learning is not disrupted. For us, we saw this challenge as an opportunity to step up our game. iAcademy will implement an online distance learning program called GOAL or Guided Online Autonomous Learning. GOAL is our online distance education program designed to provide a flexible, relevant, balanced and collaborative learning experience to our students,” said Cecilia Sy, iAcademy OIC vice president for academic affairs.
For Jake Aragon, iAcademy senior high school principal, parents and students alike can still be assured that the delivery of quality education is possible even through flexible remote learning.
“Quality education will still be achieved through GOAL because our teachers will continue to share their expertise through online channels,” said Aragon.
Instructors and professors can also effectively assess a student’s performance in a flexible learning setup through the careful use of grading criteria and rubrics that measure learning.
“Also, we will allow students to create projects anchored on their voice and choice. There will be a focus on learning styles. The administration of exams will also be done online; in addition, projects that will be required as final assessments will be designed according to what is practical and meaningful for students,” he said.
As for subjects with lessons that were usually done in labs, iAcademy assures that these can be delivered effectively using the distance learning approach.
“We revisited the curriculum and identified subjects that can be delivered online without watering down its content. There are lab subjects that require only a regular desktop or laptop and reliable Internet connection to learn the course. The students can learn the concepts and skills through live demonstrations or tutorial videos,” Sy said.
iAcademy is one of the country’s hubs for technology-focused learning. It currently offers programs under the School of Computing that allow its graduates to work freelance.
FROM establishing radio stations to committing to their roles as key stakeholders, the Parents-Teachers Associations (PTAs) of various regions delivered initiatives to support distance learning in their respective schools in preparation for the opening of SY 2020-2021.
Cauayan, Isabela, General PTA (GPTA) president Edmund Cardona reported the role parents played in their community, setting up a school radio laboratory, Radyo Edukalidad, to ensure that 21 far-flung barangays of their hometown can still maximize the schools’ radio-based instruction.
Cardona said that GPTA participated in the Brigada Eskwela initiative of schools. They contributed in the maintenance and sanitation of school facilities, and establishment of Covid prevention and mitigation structures.
Meanwhile, Atty. Ronald Perez, Federation PTA (FPTA) president of SDO Baguio City, said they conducted seminars to capacitate parents with new skills and knowledge to adapt to the distance learning setup through the Parents Academy.
The FPTA of SDO Antipolo City highlighted the efforts of their school parents to support the implementation of BE-LCP. They assisted in school-based planning and crafting of the LCP as well as the pilot testing and actual distribution of SLMs, according to Antipolo FPTA president Ma. Bonnie Corañes-Manlunas.
Manlunas and Perez also drew attention to the major role of parents in instilling values like honesty in their children in a distance learning setup.
“For us, we are really advocating the GMRC [Good Manners and Right Conduct]. We are also training the parents not to meddle in the affairs of the children considering that they need to learn and we, the parent partner ,as effective learning continuity facilitators. And we really would like to advocate the GMRC,” Perez added.
INTERVIEWED a few days before D-Day, Briones sounded upbeat but certain there would still be “new challenges” on October 5.
“There will also be new challenges. Because everything is constantly changing. Just like what’s being said here: the only constant in life is change, so by October 5, there might be other challenges which will emerge and these will be responded to,” she said.
At least, as far as the challenges they went through for the opening of classes are concerned, Briones can confidently say they responded with every means possible, in a timely fashion.
“So by October 5, as of October 5, we will already be ready. But if there are other challenges which will emerge… which we cannot solve by issuing memoranda and circulars and so on. But we can only think of ways by which we can respond,” she added.
Some critics had heckled Briones for claiming victory, but it is clear what she meant to hold up for emulation—the collective, can-do spirit that made it possible to allow millions of children to “continue education, whatever challenges we are facing. Education will continue or children will continue learning or parents will continue supporting us. Our government, our teachers, all of us are involved in this effort and this will be the biggest victory of all at this time of the pandemic.”
It literally took a village to help each child, and the hand-holding continues.