Longer hours spent adjusting to a new system of virtual learning and making sure that at-home students will be motivated enough to follow through with digital classes is just two of the many challenges that Pinoy teachers are facing this school year.
Over fears of spreading the coronavirus, Education Secretary Leonor Briones has relented to President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to postpone face-to-face classes until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available. Teachers and students will have to rely on a so-called “blended” learning that will employ the use of various media, as well as the internet to conduct classes.
This new form of learning will pose a “challenge” for both the teachers and the students, Briones said. Already, students from cash-strapped families are planning to ditch school because they can’t afford the additional costs associated with this new learning.
For teachers at Quezon City Academy (QCA) a private secondary school in a city which holds one of the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Metro Manila, the challenge may be altogether different, but it nonetheless persists.
“Our teachers are scheduled to undergo training to familiarize themselves with virtual learning materials and online platforms. We will face difficulties, but that is to be expected,” Vivien Riano, the school principal at the QCA tells Coconuts Manila over a phone interview.
The academy chief said that while the Education department has furnished them will all necessary learning resources, there is no single cut-and-dry approach to distance learning, and everyone being sequestered in their homes because of the pandemic has already caused problems ahead of the official resumption of classes on August 24.
“Our teachers have been back to work since June 1, just trying to keep up with backlog in forms, papers, and student requirements from the last school year alone. Because when we went into lockdown back in March, some of the school work still wasn’t finished,” Riano explained.
Though classes won’t physically resume, QCA’s 34 teachers, 11 administrative personnel, and 15 maintenance staff all underwent rapid tests for the coronavirus, just to allay fears and to ensure that the teachers coming to school were safe. “Luckily, everyone tested negative,” she said. The school also underwent disinfection.
Though a 70-year-old senior citizen, Riano said she had to secure a permit from the local government to be allowed out of the house, as the country’s quarantine guidelines prohibits seniors from leaving the house. The school principal said that she has to be physically present at the academy to attend to mounting questions of both parents and teachers, who are all worried about the new setup.
“One of the worries I learned from speaking with my faculty is we don’t know what students are up to because they’re at home. They might get bored and easily lose focus. Aside from that, not all parents are tech savvy, in some households both parents are working and the child is left alone in the house,” Riano shared.
One of Riano’s teaching staff, Yfamie Dumalan, an English teacher to Grade 10 to 12 students, expressed the same concern.
“As a whole, our dilemma in this setup is the assurance that the students will be able to absorb the learning. Because in the classroom, we have physical tools that demand their attention, there’s a large whiteboard to do that for example, Whereas online, a teacher might lose an internet connection while she’s explaining her lessons, or the student might be distracted with something else off-screen, or they might be the one to lose their internet connection,” Dumalan said.
“Another thing is, if they want to remember a lesson in a textbook, they can just fold that page. Unlike in e-books where you have to scroll endlessly,” she added
The 31-year-old teacher also said that while millennial teachers like her may not have a problem adjusting with technology, some of her senior colleagues have expressed apprehensions over using Zoom, along with online learning platforms Google Classroom and Nearpod.
“Those last two platforms have interactive activities for students. We’ve used it for summer classes, and it’s been widely used by teachers all over the world even before the pandemic. Now, other teachers may not be as familiar with Zoom in employing learning. With everything, beginnings are always the hardest, but eventually we all have to get used to it,” Dumalan said.
While conventional classes at the academy run six hours, the same might not translate online “because we worry about the toll, prolonged use of gadgets may take on the students’ eyesight, that’s also one conversation we’re having,” said Dumalan.
She added that the faculty is also considering how lessons will be tailored for families who have three students at home. “Do they need three gadgets for their three children? Can we combine these kids classes, who are grades 7, 8, and 9 together? That’s another conversation we’re having,” she said.
Dumalan said that before the pandemic came, one of the most challenging things teachers faced is when students who have problems at home tend to bring it to school. “It’s hard to proceed to the next lesson when you have a student who’s out of focus. He’s there but he’s not really there. Students who when something’s bothering them at home they can’t leave it at home. What more now, that they’re actually at home,” she said.
Ahead of August’s classes, Dumalan said that the ease of communicating with people online during the lockdown has also led her students to confide with her on matters of mental health, even in the hours leading up to midnight.
“Sometimes I’d get a message on Facebook at 10pm or 11pm. Anytime, really. But I have to provide support because that’s part of my sworn oath as a teacher. I have to help them as much as possible and as early as possible. Because if I don’t and somewhere along the line they fail an exam, or they drop out of school because of problems, because of support that they didn’t get, then that’s on you,” Dumalan said.
“We’re always involving parents in discussions, and we try not to overstep, but we try to help as much as we can,” she added.
“The job will likely double or triple, but it’s all part of the challenge and the work that we signed up for,” Dumalan affirmed.