While it seems that the COVID pandemic is being addressed by the government with draconian measures on quarantine restrictions and the use of face masks and face shields, a much bigger crisis in education needs attention as well.  As we all know, all Philippine school campuses are closed with classes only resuming via distance learning oronline sessions.  It would seem that the administration will allow face-to-face classes once herd immunity is achieved perhaps sometime in 2023, maybe…

It can be argued that our educational system has become the biggest casualty of COVID. According to the DepEd in 2020, the number of enrollees in public and private schools have reached more than 24.6 million, which is only 88.7% of last year’s enrollment.  The drop in the enrollment rate is only the tip of the iceberg.   The real problem is the quality of education being delivered by the teachers and the ability of the students to absorb and comprehend class lessons and lectures via distance learning or online sessions.

If we are having problems with our education system in the normal face-to-face classroom, these problems are not only magnified but other issues crop up as well in a remote set-up.  Prior to the closure of classes due to COVID, very few people, both teachers and students, are familiar with the use of video conferencing such as Skype.  Typically, only the more affluent would have access to  a fast internet connection and of course computers, laptops, tablets and smart phones. 

Speaking from experience as a Professor teaching graduate and post graduate degree programs in the best universities in the Philippines, in a face-to-face classroom and online during COVID, I have observed the following.  Not all teachers know how to teach online, or can interact with their students remotely.  The key word here is interaction.  An effective teacher is someone who adjusts to the student audience.  In a live classroom, you can see their puzzled looks, body language and boredom, which is a cue to slow down, speed up, explain more, entertain questions and get their attention.

A teacher is able to do a better job educating when they are motivated by the enthusiasm of their students.  It is also much easier to build up rapport with your class when you are face-to-face.  When teaching becomes one way, it becomes like talking to yourself in the mirror.  More so when the class you are teaching in does not switch their video on and have their microphone on with all sorts of background noise that distracts and drives you crazy!

On the other hand, students do not develop the interactive skills in making friends with their classmates, dealing with their teachers, asking questions and providing feedback.  This is because of the limited connectivity and speed, where they end up switching off their video and muting themselves.  Without the proper discipline to pay attention, attend virtual classes and participate in class discussions, these students end up missing a lot and will pay for it when they enter the real world and need to get a job or go into a business of their own.

Another observation is that students tend to slack off since they know that it would be easy to just copy from their classmates or look for the answers in the internet.  They don’t have to study as hard since it is now impossible to enforce a “closed books, closed notes” quiz or exam. However, their real handicap is when they cannot even log into their online classes due to no or poor internet service.  The poorest segments of our society bears the brunt of this distance learning since they cannot afford a high speed internet connection, smart devices and have equally handicapped teachers. 

The real challenge is how we can go back to a face-to-face classroom education to prevent the gap between the rich and the poor from getting wider. 

(The views and comments of the author are his own and not of the newspaper or FINEX.  Comments may be sent to georgechua@igsat.asia)

Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2021/06/29/education-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=education-crisis)