SPECIAL REPORT | ISKOL BUKOL? Mentors, parents, students head off to “new normal” education amid “surprises” and challenges

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(First of three parts)

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – For the past few months, Ramil Abillar wakes up early for coffee in a neighborhood coffeeshop owned by Hernani Castor, a village councilman in the middle-class residential subdivision of Eroreco.

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With the threat of being infected by COVID, Ramil, who holds a doctorate degree in Public Administration, brings his own mug.

A stainless steel-clad one with a cover and a print that says “Messengers of Peace.”

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Sometimes, he would sing advertising jingles, sometimes he would ask about the latest talk on the street, sometimes he would crack jokes, laugh heartily, even boistetously but that is only up to an hour or so until he excuses himself to go ahead of his Santa Clara barkada. “I have work to do,” he would say.

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Recently, he looked brooding.

Four schoolteachers here have died even before classes have started on 5 October, a first in the country’s history.

Doc Ramil is a public schoolteacher at the Vista Alegre-Granada Elementary School, about 11 kilometers away from Eroreco where he lives with an aging relative and a dog.

Children, like these ones living in a sugarcane plantation, are among the thousands who will return to school by 5 October anid concerns and challenges to education officials, parents and students. This photo was taken in the summer of 2011 in the hacienda of Ilimnan in Murcia town. | Photo by Julius D Mariveles, DNX Archives

Every week, he also goes to Sagay City to bring provisions and pensions to two elderly aunts.

“I always have to be careful, I am afraid to put them in danger,” Ramil tells DNX.

The past few weeks saw Doc Ramil alternating between webinars, reporting to school or online consultations, sometimes under the neighborhood mango tree when his provider’s WiFi speed is as swift as a snail or when there is a power outage.

Doc Ramil is one of the more than 12,000 public school mentors in Sugarlandia, a province of close to 2.5 million, who will be off to a radically new way of education, a shift that requires true community effort as children and parents, not only the school, are expected to take part for it to work.

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Today, 30 September, five days away from the opening, ranking education officials in the province headed by the province’s schools division superintendent Marsette Sabbaluca sounded upbeat in a virtual presser as they presented simulations of learning modalities that more than 600 schools in the province chose from.

Sabbaluca spoke directly in her opening statement, saying that no one was prepared for the pandemic and the shift to different learning styles and methods.

What was clear from the start of the briefing is the fact that face-to-face learning, education as most know it, is gone.

NEXT: self-learning? Radio? Printed? What are these?

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