The first executive order issued by Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte-Carpio mandates that face-to-face classes should resume on Nov. 2, 2022 for both public and private schools. The transition options provided can only be implemented up to the end of October: five days of in-person classes; blended learning modality, i.e., three days of in-person classes and two days of distance learning; and full distance learning.
By November 2, all students are expected to be attending face-to-face classes. However, depending on Covid-19 surges that may be present in some localities or cities, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is empowered to suspend such classes, in which case the Department of Education (DepEd) will follow until it trickles down to all public and private schools. It also does not seem to be a blanket policy applicable to higher education as the Commission on Higher Education has left the final decision to universities and colleges on whether to implement 100-percent in-person classes.
Understandably, two pressing issues may have pushed the resumption of face-to-face classes, especially in public schools. First is the state of the internet access across the archipelago and second, the digital skills that may still be lacking in public school teachers. Going back to the traditional way of teaching will be to the advantage of teachers, especially those that have not really gotten used to teaching online (either due to digital acumen, age or a combination). Moreover, the erratic internet connectivity that may be present, especially in rural areas, also contributes to the lackluster online experience of students and the learnings obtained. It is not easy and everyone understands it.
However, private schools that enjoy more stable internet connectivity and students who have relatively adjusted to online studying may have a different perspective. One private school group has already shared its insights and expressed reservations. The Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations of the Philippines has asked that the department order be reconsidered and weight given to the advantages of blended learning.
Our two kids have opted to continue their schooling online, even though they are fully vaccinated and boosted, because of the ease and convenience the set-up brings, not to mention the practicality of staying put. I have similarly checked with other people whose children are also in grade school and high school, and while there are no final decisions yet from their schools as to how face-to-face classes will be dealt with, the sentiment remains: provide an option for full online classes, not just hybrid, and have the students or parents choose the best mode for them to learn.
This DepEd direction becomes difficult to enforce and implement especially when the country is not yet mandating vaccinations. We also have challenges in terms of equipping educators with sustainable digital skills and this could be an opportune time to look into this.
In the end, the objective is to ensure that students get the best out of their education and learn in the most optimal way. This requires understanding already innate skills (as an example, Generation Alpha — those born from 2010 onwards — are highly technological, visual, and connected) and pairing them with educators who are similarly understanding of the different tools available. If the same students go to in-person classes and yet the teaching methods are not updated, it becomes a lost cause.
Kay Calpo Lugtu is the chief operating officer of Hungry Workhorse, a digital and culture transformation firm. Her advocacies include food innovation, nation-building and sustainability. She can be reached at email@example.com.