Nobody expected on Monday that Typhoon Quinta would be a super storm with winds clocking at 170 kilometers per hour. The weather agency had forecast it would only have, at best, sustained winds of 100 kph. I am not sure if it was a forecasting error or the typhoon just suddenly intensified, but what happened as a result was something that would usually occur before the Covid-19 pandemic: classes were suspended.
Initially, I was chuckling in disbelief: how could local government units (LGUs) or the Department of Education suspend classes at a time when we have supposedly shifted to teaching and learning online? Then I realized that the shift was not really 100 percent, as the department included manual processes and interventions for areas with little to no internet connectivity. It introduced the concept of modules, where teachers had to physically bring stacks of papers to villages for their students to fill out and later come back for and check them for grading purposes.
So when Quinta was hammering parts of our country early this week, some LGUs decided to play it safe and suspend classes. My husband’s classes at De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila were called off after the city government announced their suspension. DLSU may be conducting all its classes online, but it was still affected by the announcement.
Is this the right approach? Is it even a sustainable, long-term one? We don’t have a coronavirus vaccine yet and La Niña is already upon us, so we will be in this for a while, when you think about it. In fact, news outlets have been reporting that at least two new typhoons are expected to enter the country in the next two weeks. Would we see more class suspensions, even if some universities have fully transitioned online?
The many challenges we have as a country have been magnified by the pandemic. The shift to digital, especially in public schools, has been quite painful, to say the least. The sheer introduction of a physical and manual process limited the full transition to digital, which would make education resilient in so many ways. The challenge to a full digital pivot is then hampered by the lack of proper physical infrastructure, especially for internet connectivity, which everyone agrees still needs a lot of improvement. In fact, I recall a similar incident where I was inside a bank, and then there was a heavy downpour — not a typhoon — that affected connectivity, disabling the bank’s banking system and making the poor tellers unable to accept deposits simply because they lost their access to their application. Imagine if you have been queueing for hours!
Our educational system has already been disrupted by the pandemic. Add to that La Niña, poor infrastructure and policymaking that will further disrupt education, then we really need to have concrete action plans to at least manage those who are resilient and those who are not.
Infrastructure improvement. The infrastructure has to be improved to make it typhoon-resilient or disaster-resilient, so that internet connectivity would not suffer. This has to be a call to action for our lawmakers to see this perspective, and work with the private sector for an aligned approach.
Policymaking. LGUs should segment educational establishments based on their transition online. Some would be conducting classes fully online while other could adopt a hybrid approach, but such classification should put some weight in canceling classes. Perhaps, a certain tier would be required to suspend classes while those fully online can continue to hold theirs.
Digital is supposed to make our lives easier, education included, and should transcend physical limitations. But we still find ourselves in the same predicament in this supposedly new normal. A continuous review and careful iteration of processes and policies are needed until we find a good working model on how to manage education right now amid the pandemic.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include nation-building, sustainability education and financial literacy. She may be reached at email@example.com.