TURNING POINT: Pandemic Distancing in Education

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 09 July) – If there is work from home (WFH), very soon there would be education from home (EFH), too.

The coronavirus pandemic may yet change the landscape of education in this country and threaten its role as a great equalizer.

To protect the population in schools from contracting the deadly virus, the government is suspending face-to-face classroom instruction in favor of distant learning.

Mentors and learners would no longer go to school and are spared from the possibility of contracting the virus in crowded school facilities, transport terminals, over-capacity trains, buses and jeepneys.

Virtual classes may be held distantly via three possible learning platforms: the internet two-way communication system, and the one-way TV and radio broadcast system.

The internet platform, with the aid of gadgets with built-in computers, has clear teaching-learning advantage over TV and radio. The former, with its reinforcing visual and audio features in real time, can be interactive and approximates face-to-face classroom teaching-learning situation. Its convenient feedback system helps correct, verify, validate and reinforce learning gains, as well as improve the entire delivery process.

TV and radio classes, on the other hand, have no feedback loop; interaction in real time is hardly possible. Feedback sheets in hard copy may be availed though by the two platforms. It may, however, take a long time to connect mentors and learners and feedback, thus, may lose its critical significance. Without an adequate feedback system, teaching is but an exercise in futility.

Incidentally, not any of the learning platforms can simulate laboratory classes, say, in biology and chemistry. This is one important aspect of classroom learning that distant education may not be able to deliver.

Affordability-wise, this remedial education in this pandemic time discriminates and divides. Only a small segment of the population has the capacity to avail of the favored distant learning vehicles – internet-driven gadgets and TV sets. Most of these are families with regular sources of income, which are mostly found in urban areas. The poorer sector, urban wage earners and rural farmer and workers, may have to rely on radio as the learning channel for their children.

Needless to say, those who are advanced by the system or who benefit much from distant education are the learners from well-to-do families. Like in many other social endeavors, the poor or poorer sector of society is always at the disadvantage.

Meanwhile, the continued suspension of regular classes may yet forfeit the earning capacity of a number in the education industry. For instance, only a few are needed to produce instructional or programmed learning materials and fewer still are needed to deliver them to the intended audience.

While the government may continue to pay the salaries of teachers and support staff that are not involved in distant education while waiting for the resumption of regular classes, the private sector can’t be expected to do the same. Redundant or unnecessary positions would inevitably be abolished to cut on expense. Thus a good number will lose their jobs.

Also adversely affected by this new normal in education are the livelihoods of those in the informal support chain. The count includes operators and drivers of jeepneys, motorcabs, and pedicabs; operators and workers of small food stalls, internet cafes, printing and bindery shops and many other small enterprises.

Obviously discriminating and socially bias and with no clearly proven benefits yet, it might be advantageous to try first distant education on an experimental basis for a semester in few strategic places across the country before adopting it on a grand scale. This will allow authorities to evaluate its efficacy and efficiency, as well as find ways to remedy access imbalance and weaknesses in delivery. This is important before making it a fixture in our educational system, considering that the virus may yet be with us in one, two or more years to come. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)