COMMENTARY: How would the Philippine Educational Ecosystem Survive the Crisis of COVID-19?

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 29 May) — Like all other sectors, the educational sector in the Philippines has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as it is one of the largest sectors that provide education, training, and employment for both professionals, skilled, semi-skilled workers, as well as our young people. We would need to imagine and see the vast array of spaces that define the Philippine educational ecosystem to be able to imagine the impact of the present pandemic on it.

Generally, there are basic classifications in the Philippine educational ecosystem:

  1. Basic education which comprises the k-12 educational system which involves K (preparatory and Kindergarten school) elementary (grades 1-6) junior high school (grades 7-10) senior high school ( grades 11-12) which is supervised by the Department of Education (DepEd).
  2. Technical education- which provides technical training for skilled and semi-skilled workers that is required by our industries. This is supervised by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).
  3. Higher education which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, generally provides more specialized areas of the labor force and management. This is supervised by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).

This may be a general classification of the educational system, what it fails to notice is the typologies of the different learning institutions that exist in the learning ecosystem we have considering that there are state and non-state learning institutions. We will try to illustrate this diversity:

  1. Government elementary and high schools which primarily offer grades 1 to 6 (elementary) and grades 7 to 10 (junior high school) grades 11 to 12 (senior high school)
  2. Government trade and technical schools and training centers, which handle technical courses either as vocational training schools and centers, offer diploma courses and are established to provide technical education
  3. State universities and colleges which offer undergraduate and graduate courses
  4. Uniformed service academies which primarily serve uniformed services of the Philippine government such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the Philippine Coast Guard
  5. Lower level private preparatory schools which primarily service areas where government public schools may at times be either inaccessible or a bit far. Their class sizes may vary but normally have small numbers and are dependent on the number of students in the community. Class sizes at times may vary from 10 to 20 and may not have resources to operate on a long-term basis. If there is, there would be economic or financial problems that may occur.
  6. Lower level private k-6 schools which primarily service areas where government public schools may at times be either inaccessible or a bit far their class sizes may vary but normally have small numbers and are dependent on the number of students in the community. Class sizes at times may vary from 10 to 20 and may not have resources to operate on a long-time basis. If there is, there would be economic or financial problems that may occur.
  7. Lower level private k-10 schools which primarily service areas where government public schools may at times be either inaccessible or a bit far their class sizes may vary but normally have small numbers and are dependent on the number of students in the community. Class sizes at times may vary from 10 to 20 and may not have resources to operate on a long-term basis. if there is, there would be economic or financial problems that may occur.
  8. Secular/church based private k-10 and k-12 schools are generally schools that have middle sized classes from 15 to 30, at times up to 45 or 60, but whose students may come from other areas apart from the community they are located. These are generally parochial/church-based schools. Their operations are dependent on how well they manage community relationships and how stable the local community economy is.
  9. Private technical training schools which offer vocational courses from short term (minimum of 45 days) to diploma courses (maximum of two years), they generally offer courses that have high enrollment rates and are in demand on the job market like computer technical schools, food and beverage services among others.
  10. Private industry based technical training institutions which are normally training institutions that are either attached to an industry or business or are part of the business model of the institution like hotels offering courses like baking or food and beverage services, manpower agencies that may offer housekeeping service or security service, construction and fabrication companies offering plumbing, carpentry or electrical wiring. Their business model is mutually inclusive to their business and their attached training institution as it provides industry experience required by the field they are working or will be working in.
  11. Private industry based degree offering institutions which offer full college degrees such as hotels offering BS Hotel and Restaurant Management Service; hospitals offering BS Nursing, BS Medical Technology, shipping companies offering maritime courses. Their business model is mutually inclusive to their business and their attached training institution as it provides industry experience required by the field they are working or will be working in.
  12. Private higher educational institutions which primarily offer undergraduate (bachelor) and graduate (masteral and doctoral) degrees and may be secular, non-secular or religious in nature and may have long term resources to sustain their operations.
  13. Religious learning institutions which provide education and training for religious leaders and clergy of religious communities. They may be in the form of seminaries, theological schools, evangelical colleges for Christians while it may be Toril, Madrasah, Mahad and Kulliyah among others for Muslims.
  14. Cultural learning institutions for indigenous cultural communities such as school of living traditions and mentoring.

Each of these learning institutions have divergent educational philosophies as well as diverging economic or business models to allow them to operate.

Looking from a financial and survival perspective:

Government schools, educational and training institutions survive on state support to operate and depending on the availability of their resources would be able to adjust to blended learning and during the quarantine period would have guaranteed income for their teachers and administrative employees. Employees from government institutions would likely survive this pandemic.

Private educational institutions are dependent on their financial stability to provide for their employees. Private educational institutions who have small classes and relatively cheap tuition fees and are community-based would normally suffer during the pandemic as they are highly dependent on student tuition for salaries of their employees, especially their teachers. Small private educational institutions provide small salaries and could hardly afford minimum salaries, in contrast to bigger private educational institutions who can afford it.

Larger private educational institutions on the other hand may have employees on different employment status, some contractual, some provisional and some permanent. With the current economic crisis coming in, schools like other employers may terminate non-permanent employees which would increase the number of jobless people.

Private technical training institutions, whether stand-alone training institutions or industry-based, would still be affected as the industries themselves are heavily affected and would be suffering economic loses.

Religious and cultural learning institutions would be the most affected, although Christian seminaries are highly endowed and supported by their patrons. Islamic religious learning institutions would be affected as not all of them are provided with endowments or patrons and would be highly dependent on student tuition and may be forced to close, and since these do not have social safeguards they are very vulnerable.

Looking from an Educational Technology Perspective:

As a third world country with problematic internet access, the quest for moving towards blended or online learning would be challenging, as not all educational institutions would be able to adapt immediately to this task.

Public schools would be challenged on the student side as not all would be able to gain access to online learning per se, although government can easily train educators, whether its public school teachers, technical educators, state university educators or uniformed service trainors. It is only a question of how these educators would deliver training content to their students /trainees and be relevant using blended or online methods.

Private educational institutions that are small would have difficulty adjusting most especially if their main clientele of students comes from the class C and D income brackets who could hardly afford private education but due to circumstances would have to enroll in these schools. During this pandemic they would’ve have difficulty providing salaries for their teachers, especially in a no work no pay situation plus the challenge to train these teachers to do blended or primarily online learning. In addition, they would have problems with resources to ensure this learning is satisfactory.

Larger private educational institutions like Ateneo de Davao and Manila would manage and have been preparing their infrastructure for blended and online learning. And since their students come from upper- and middle-class families, they could afford internet connectivity and usage of laptops and mobile devices for instruction.

Religious learning and cultural institutions would definitely be affected by the usage of educational technology. These include Christian theological seminaries which are primarily boarding schools as well as Muslim religious institutions some of which are stay-out schools like madrassahs while others are boarding schools like Torils. As these teachers have not been trained for this government must find a way on how to transition them to include educational technology as part of their pedagogy.

How can government assist these learning institutions?

Considering that not everyone was able to get support from government social aid programs during the pandemic, these educational institutions as well as their employees should be provided assistance and support from the government to be able to survive this pandemic.

Primary before anything else is the provision of social amelioration programs for the educators and admin employees of these institutions, most especially for private institutions who are unable to provide social amelioration to their teachers and employees in this period, as many of these institutions barely have enough money to support long term their employees since the closure of the classes.

Second is the provision of financial aid to selected private institutions so they can continue their operations on a limited capacity. This goes for basic education, technical schools, higher education and religious learning institutions.

Third is the provision of technical training and support for blended and online learning. Special emphasis should be given on using open-access sources, website and software, as well as free and open source software (FOSS) in order to empower these institutions to develop and create their own materials without being encumbered by proprietary conditions. Support can be done either through the national government agencies or through the local government units.

In the end, with the changing times in the educational ecosystem, the focus of all learning is always the learners. With the new pedagogy and andragogy in place, the challenge is how to make learning not only relevant but also interesting. How do we educators as well as the institutions we represent make the new normal in social relations and education an interesting environment to learn, and generate more new knowledge in this era?

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Yusuf Morales is former commissioner for Muslim Minorities at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (2016-2020) and was former Muslim Affairs Coordinator of the Social Development Council, Ateneo de Zamboanga University (2014-2016) at the same time a member of the Board of Directors of Al-Qalam Institute for Muslim Identities in Southeast Asia from 2011to 2016. Before that he was Dean for Academic Affairs at the Almustafa College in Makati from 2010-2011, and was school administrator for five years of the Asian Academy of Business and Computers from 2005 to 2010. He continues to lecture and teach short term courses at different uniform service academies and seminars. He has been in the field of EDTECH and Educational Management since 2005.

Prof Sharima Morales is an associate professor at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines and was extension coordinator for several years at PUP. She was awarded the AFP Bayanihan Award in 2014.  She was the academic affairs  and registrar of the Asian Academy of Business and Computers from 2005 to 2010. She is a curriculum developer by training).

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