STRIKING A BALANCE: Yes to blended learning, no to academic freeze

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has forced education systems around the world to rethink how learning can still be provided to students despite the ongoing uncertainties. On one hand, Philippines’ education leaders have been adamant in their marching orders that “education must go on” and that “education cannot wait.” On the other hand, some student organizations have proposed a so-called “academic freeze” where school year 2020-2021 will be effectively canceled.

The context of this debate is the reality that as long as a vaccine against COVID-19 has been developed, Philippine-style face-to-face classes where 50 to 70 students are cramped inside classrooms is way too risky to resume anytime soon.

Proponents and opponents of academic freeze both offer strong arguments. For their part, the advocates of the #AcademicFreezeNow initiative highlight the difficulty of pursuing online education in the Philippines. To back up their stand, they point out that many Filipino families do not have the necessary gadgets and strong Internet connection needed for online classes.

This concern, they add, is causing mental health anxieties among students who are already experiencing difficulties due to the pandemic. Those calling for an academic freeze also the reality that many parents lost incomes, if not their jobs itself, as a result of the months-long lockdown.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) has reiterated the warning of the United Nations International Children’s Fund or UNICEF last June 2020 that “the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return” to support their decision to push through with SY 2020-2021. It should be recalled that the number of out-of-school youth has been persistently high for decades here in the Philippines.

Students from low-income families will be at a disadvantage if online education is the only alternative pursued (Photo by Mark Madrona)

Amidst this debate, it must be emphasized that education stakeholders here and around the world are just trying to make the best out of a really bad situation. Face-to-face classes as we know it will not likely resume during this school year, and all alternatives should be explored – no matter how imperfect they are.

Canceling school year 2020-2021 can also have dire consequences for the country’s economy. The prolonged suspension of classes has already forced hundreds of private schools nationwide to close – forcing teachers working there into unemployment.

Suspending an entire school year will also jeopardize the development of our country’s labor sector. Also, instead of being able to finish their studies on time, graduating students will be forced to wait one more year before they can earn their degree – which will in turn delay their ability to be employed earn for themselves and their families. On a side note, the cancelation of licensure examinations this 2020 is painful because it means that we don’t have more professionals especially in the health care industry.

Having said that, there is a need to balance the imperative for the learning process to go on while not overlooking the valid concerns raised by so many students. It is clear that settling on online classes as the only alternative to face-to-face learning will not, does not, and cannot work. Therefore, schools across the country should develop learning modules or course packs to make sure that students with limited access to the Internet can still catch up with the lessons.

The Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education’s push for a blended learning approach for this school year can be a good compromise toward that. The blended learning approach includes using online platforms, self-learning modules, and even television and radio to deliver lessons to students.

 

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