Teaching in the midst of CoViD: Quo vadis, teachers?

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Second of three parts

The CoViD-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench at the education system.

Public school teachers, as this is written, is now in the thick of creating modules for digital learning.  

Jan Raymund Cabiten prepares for a virtual kickoff as he brings work home with him. | Photo furnished by Jan Reymund Cabiten
Jan Raymund Cabiten prepares for a virtual kickoff as he brings work home with him. | Photo furnished by Jan Reymund Cabiten

With resistance to face-to-face learning among apprehensive parents unwilling to expose their children to fellow children (and rightfully so), schools are now in a frantic race to throw out time-and-tested traditional teaching-learning methods and learn new yet effective teaching-learning strategies.

When Secretary of Education Leonor Briones announced that digital is the way to go, a ripple of panic was felt by members of the academe who are faced with the challenge of implementing policies, and who the realities on the ground.

How, they asked, could you teach 50-plus kids in far-flung areas where internet connectivity is as stable as the current economy?

Jan Reymund Cabiten, a public school teacher, knows the feeling well.

True, he has been making modules and activity sheets for the kids, but he could not – for the life of him – imagine how all these would be delivered to students.

Materials for a virtual kickoff are prepared for the new school year. | Photo furnished by Jan Raymund Cabiten
Materials for a virtual kickoff are prepared for the new school year. | Photo furnished by Jan Raymund Cabiten

Imagine a classroom of kids, all restless, all in different levels of intelligence.  One can read like it’s no big deal; another’s idea of reading is sounding off syllables one-by-one.  Another has problems pronouncing the long “e” sound, while another has problems with the short “e”. 

Bedlam. Mayhem. Chaos.

Now imagine replicating those problems in a digital classroom, where teachers could not point to a problematic word, or single out a pupil without the risk of embarrassing them.  How, indeed, can you make teaching more personalized when the medium is cold?

“In the area where I teach,” Reymund tells DNX, “internet reception is very poor. So modular learning is the only way to go.”

Modular learning involves self-learning modules administered via distance learning platforms – through text, private messages, or email.  It is more individualized – unlike a Zoom conference, for instance, where dozens of students can be accommodated at once.

Teachers get to monitor a student’s progress, and go on home visits if remediaton is needed.

But Reymund is doubtful about the efficiency of such a set-up. 

“Honestly, I don’t know how this new scheme can really make education for these children possible. I think this can put our children at even riskier situation,” he says.

Modular distance learning minimizes face-to-face interaction, true, but as Reymund has earlier mentioned, it does not eliminate it altogether because the teacher is still required to have an occasional home visit to check on accomplishment of the self-learning modules, as well as provide remedial care if necessary.

And therein lies the problem which are at the back of the minds of teachers but Reymund merely verbalized: What if the teachers – through the performance of their duties – unwittingly brings the virus to a barangay that is previously CoViD-free?

“I am pro education. But I think health is more important now than ever. Children are very vulnerable to acquire the disease and the likes of us are potential carriers of this,” he says.

Attend webinars, make modules, rest, and repeat

Even before pandemic, teachers already have a ton of workload to do even during summer.  So forget the things that you have heard about teachers getting a full two-month vacation with pay. 

Things do not work that way.

A lone coffee cup is witness to the virtual workload as public school teachers prepare a digital module for students. | Photo furnished by Jan Reymund Cabiten.
A lone coffee cup is witness to the virtual workload as public school teachers prepare a digital module for students. | Photo furnished by Jan Reymund Cabiten.

Maritez Gonzales, a public school teacher based here in Bacolod, said the realities faced by teachers have not changed as far as preparations are concerned.

Sans the pandemic, teachers are required to submit voluminous reports, attend skills-building seminars, prepare teaching-learning activities in preparation for the new school year.

“With the pandemic, it is basically the same routine except [everything is done] through a virtual platform,” Maritez tells DNX.

For instance, there are still regular meetings with the principal, except of course this time, they are done via digital apps.

At first, Maritez admits, it was scary.

“We just experienced this pandemic and our life is changing abruptly.  But eventually, we were able to cope and adjust,” she reveals.

The school provided opportunities for teachers to be prepared psychologically, and physically via webinars.  Every day, there is something to look forward as teachers are adapting changes and adopt the new normal.

Part of the new normal is readying modular lessons that are anchored Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCS) as identified by the Department of Education.

MELCS are skills and behavior that students are expected to exhibit during the teaching-learning process.  It could be anything from defining a concept, or participating in a tree-planting activity.

Her school, she said, also helping students enroll especially those without access to internet, or those without any gadgets, as the new normal requires students to have, at the very least, a mobile device to keep up with the lessons.

Another public school teacher, Jezza Clair Vitorino concurs. Jezza has a lot of hats in her school – from an advisory class where she handles more than 50 students to being coordinator of the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI). 

The Phil-IRI, for the uninitiated, is classroom-based assessment on the reading skills of students, with students’ skills usually segregated into three levels: independent, instructional, and frustration.

The coordinator is tasked with creating a pretest, remediation, and post-test materials as well as monitor reading progress of learners under remediation.

Jezza said that far from deloading her of her tasks now that there is a pandemic, her workload has doubled.

“The work-from-home arrangement gave us a bunch of daily and weekly accomplishment reports,” she says.

Things become challenging, she says, if internet connection gets choppy, which is often.

School and classroom preparations are much harder this time, she says, because she can no longer tap parents and students for help.

Like with Maritez’s case, faculty meetings are also done online – which again, could be challenging with an unstable internet connection. 

With much of the system dependent on technology that does not work half the time, how will education fare in the future?

Or better yet, without a vaccine in sight, would the education system – and everyone in it – now be at the constant mercy of an infrastructure that may bail at any moment? 

For Part 1, click this link Teaching in the midst of CoVid: Quo vadis, teachers? Part 1.

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