The remote idyllic village looks straight from a tourist post card: clear streams which during specific times of the summer are filled with gossiping mothers and young children literally washing their dirty linen. Clusters of trees shading small shanties spaced a kilometer apart; occasional sari-sari stores selling blue, and red liquid in Coca-Cola bottles.
And dirt roads that can accommodate only two people side-by-side, or dirt bikes that have been leaving beaten tracks on the ground. The area was so remote it was doubtful even that anybody from the town proper had been there.
Teacher Lyn found her way towards one of those clusters of trees, beneath which is a hayub-hayub (shanty). Teacher Lyn has a student there who is taking up the new curriculum via self-learning modules. Today is the scheduled date for monitoring said student’s progress, and see if remediation is necessary.
She stood in front of the house now, knocked on the door, and was told to enter.
Two weeks later, that remote idyllic village had its first CoViD case.
The scenario is one of the fears that had been playing in the mind of Jan Reymund Cabiten, a public school teacher who is among those affected by the sudden shift in the academic system as the Department of Education insisted on continuing with the teaching-learning process – but this time with a twist.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ announcement had earlier pushed local school boards, academic institutions, and other members of the academe to come up with the demands of opening the school year – but this time to ensure the least amount of exposure possible.
How to do that?
Words like “online”, “digital”, “wireless techs and methods” and “blended learning”. The terms were thrown about haphazardly. There were even appeals for parents to help teachers in the process.
It turns out, everything looks good but only on paper.
But the realities on the ground are different (enter link here on part 2 of Teaching Amidst Covid). And, Reymund says, there is no assurance at all that the virus will not spread anyway.
Fear and loathing amid corona
Maritez Gonzalez had been a public school teacher for more than half her life, dedicating much of her academic career not just as teacher but as mother, friend, older sister, counsellor.
She had also invested both time, and her own money on the school where she teaches. In fact, one of the things she did when she discovered that her students had been practically roasting under the heat was buy three large fans for her classroom.
She admits to being scared and apprehensive when the pandemic struck, because who wouldn’t?
“Our life changed abruptly but eventually we were able to cope because we have been attending webinars to prepare us psychologically and physically to be healthy,” she says, adding that she has now “slowly embraced” the changes forced by the pandemic.
Another public school teacher, Jezza Claire Victorino, tells DNX that when the pandemic first struck, the first thing that came to mind was: What would happen to teachers’ income? Will they still continue to get paid?
Jezza, after all, had no other means of income apart from teaching, so indeed, how to keep the larder full (or keep the bulugasan from emptying) became a valid concern.
But when DepEd announced that classes will resume anyway, her fears for herself gave way to fears for her students.
“Will we be safe from the virus? Will the department provide us PPEs? How about the students? What of their protection? Where would they get the necessary [protective gear] when they have barely enough to buy rice?” she says.
Both Jezza and Reymund also voiced out what had been an observation by many on the ground, which could show how out-of-touch the policy-makers could be: Where would the students get the money to buy mobile devices for their learning?
And if they do have the money, and the school will opt for online learning, is there an existing infrastructure that could accommodate the online needs of all the households, including upland barangays?
“Though there are other modalities, what we fear the most is the risk of acquiring the virus because we we still need to hand over the modules and activities to them in person,” Jezza says.
Reymund gave a clearer, and more specific picture of what would most likely happen:
Once a week, the parents would go to the school to retrieve modules. Students would answer these, then submit the modules the next week, and get another set for another week.
In short, face-to-face interaction would not even be a thing of the past under the new normal. Modular Distance Learning, for instance, would still require that occasional home visit for, say, remediation.
Therein lies the fear as presented earlier in the article.
“What if, by performing our duties, we transmit the virus to an area that is previously CoViD-free?” Reymund rhetorically asks.
What about parents acting as teaching assistants, guiding their children through the module.
Reymund made a startling declaration – startling, but not surprising – and that is, that there are certain parents who still do not know how to read.
“So how can they help their children with something that themselves do not have the skills for?” he says.
So what, then, would be the best remedy?
“I strongly believe that postponement of this school year will be more beneficial,” Reymund firmly says.
Health, he says, is a primordial consideration above all else.
With a lot of things to consider, and the cure for CoViD nowhere in sight, the plight of the teachers – who are frontliners in the education department – remain uncertain.
The security of their tenure is just one aspect of it. How many are losing their jobs, for instance? And with a raging pandemic, what of their health?
The questions are just too many; the answers all tentative.
And so we ask them, the second parents, the frontliners: Quo vadis, teachers?