"Blended learning because of COVID is an opportunity for wider education reforms."
We’re smack in the middle today of the 12th annual celebration of National Teachers’ Month, starting last September 5. It’s an ongoing project of our friends at the Metrobank Foundation, led by its president Aniceto Sobrepena.
The teaching profession is a topic that ought to be close to the hearts of so many of our countrymen whose parents included a teacher—in my case, my mother, who earned two master’s degrees and a doctorate in education and taught, first at Philippine Christian University (PCU) and then in UP.
Among us cousins, however, only one of us is currently teaching actively. That would be Dean Jorge Bocobo III, today also titled “Dean”—of the College of Engineering and Information Technology at De La Salle’s campus in Lipa, Batangas. He and his colleagues have managed to produce a complete online platform for the entire elementary and high school curriculum—a prodigious achievement which, however, the last I heard they were still trying to market to DepEd and other schools in their region.
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I was minded of Dean’s project when I came across a news story about DepEd hiring well-known radio and TV broadcasters to train teachers who will be producing broadcast and online teaching material. This project supports the blended learning program that will hopefully supplement, if not entirely replace, physical classroom learning in the age of COVID. If it fails, our kids may well end up kissing goodbye to one or two school years.
The broadcaster/trainors will be led by TV5 news chief Luchi Cruz-Valdes and veteran TV host Paolo Bediones, and include household names like Jessica Soho, Korina Sanchez, Karen Davila, Arnold Clavio, Kara David, Atom Araullo and Kim Atienza. DepEd also plans to build broadcast-ready studios for use in the different regions, and hopes to open classes by October 5—right after National Teachers Month ends.
Transferring pedagogy from the classroom to the digital world is neither simple nor straightforward. Interactivity and student performance measurement are just two of the simpler challenges. If they haven’t already done it yet, DepEd may wish to look at independent initiatives like my cousin’s in Lipa in order to speed up technology adoption.
This would also free up more time for the agency to deal with hardware issues like bandwidth, access devices, even power supply especially among remote schools. In a country where the top telecoms official thinks 3-5 mbps is “decent enough,” the hardware challenge is cut out for DepEd.
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It’s also high time for our educational sector to consider a couple of more fundamental reforms. In a recent global competition among Grade 7 students, our kids came in dead last in the subjects of reading and mathematics, and second to last in science. The problem has little to do with the dedication of our teachers, and everything to do with longstanding institutional issues.
The first reform should devolve much of the authority and budget of DepEd, away from the central office, downwards and outwards to the regional offices. Ideally, in a federal set-up, the regional offices of DepEd would transform into the education departments of regional governments, with a much smaller central federal office looking after a much smaller agenda like policy development and coordination.
Capex, salaries, procurement, maintenance and other overhead are better decentralized and placed under the more stringent budget pressures of local governance. This would also encourage greater community participation, especially by the parents, in critical activities like teacher and curriculum evaluations.
The second reform should open up education to foreign investment, which is totally prohibited under the 1987 Constitution. We’ll have to learn the self-confidence of advanced Asian countries like Hong Kong and Singapore where world-class institutions like Harvard and Stanford have set up their own campuses. We ought to be able to benefit from the capital and technology of foreign educational entrepreneurs while monitoring what they teach our students, which is what ought to be the policy objective anyway.
The transition to blended learning may be a golden opportunity to make changes like these—perhaps one of the silver linings in the COVID cloud.
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Today’s Gospel (Lk 8: 19-21) tells us how Jesus redefined His family. When told that His mother and brothers were outside waiting to see Him, He replied: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
In our Christian country, teaching our children to hear the word of God and act on it comes naturally to most parents. But because we are nominally secular, our public schools cannot do so formally, although you would—thankfully--never guess that from the ubiquity of religious images even in public schools, especially of the Mother and Child.
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