I am no expert in deciding if schools can resume the traditional classroom education—as it is already being done in a number of countries—or to maintain our current virtual classroom system. However, having taught in physical classrooms for more than 30 years (at the tertiary level in De La Salle University, University of the Philippines-Diliman, Far Eastern University, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Manila and more recently online at Don Bosco Technical College), I can definitely see the difference.
While one can always argue that with a virtual session you have a number of advantages like no travel time, companies and the executives making the hiring decision have never equated an online degree with a regular one; now, I fully understand why. It is the lack of interaction and feedback both from the faculty and students, which limits the educational process.
Getting good faculty is difficult enough but to get good ones that can teach in a virtual environment is next to impossible. Great speakers are able to deliver moving speeches and great lectures when they can see how attentive and supportive their audience is. A live performer is able to feed on the charged energy of thousands of their adoring and cheering fans. Do you think a speaker will be able to do a better job alone in a room talking to himself in the mirror? Do you think performing artists will be able to do their best if they cannot see or hear their fans inside a sound proof box?
Teachers are pretty much in the same boat when they do a synchronous session with their students who do not even have their video on. How is the teacher supposed to know if their students understand the lecture, if they are paying attention or are they even there? Good professors need to get feedback from their students so he knows if he should elaborate further, provide an example or even call out one of the students to explain.
Students are no better off either. With our poor and costly Internet infrastructure, attending a virtual classroom is a challenge for most students. They are plagued by dead spots, inconsistent connectivity, slow Internet speeds and limited familiarity with and ownership of the proper equipment such as desktop and laptop computers, tablets and smart phones. How can most students even afford the right equipment and internet connection when their parents are out of a job?
Students are unable to have a meaningful interaction with the professor because they do not even have enough bandwidth to turn on their video so the professor can see their reactions like having a dazed look, disinterest or raising their hand to ask a question. Students are also unable to interact with their fellow students during class and are put in a situation where they are hesitant or even embarrassed to ask questions for clarification, since they too do not know if their fellow classmates are having the same difficulty in understanding the lecture.
This lack of social interaction and socialization stunts the emotional growth of the students. Young people go to school to meet different types of people, learn how to deal with them and get exposed to the real world. Similarly, this also stunts the professional growth of the faculty who are not able to finesse how to interact with their class and provide the appropriate adjustments and stimulus in their teaching style and content to maximize the learning experience of their students.
It is understandable that the government is trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19 to students to save their lives. However, we should also temper this with the question, what kind of life will our students have if they do not get the proper education they deserve? I guess we all know the answer to that question.
Former Finex President George S. Chua is president of Kimberly Realty Corp. Comments may be sent to [email protected].