IT is not only here in the Philippines where the education system is being drastically and permanently affected by the pandemic. The recent declaration of CHED Chairman Popoy de Vera that flexible learning will be the new norm in the education sector even beyond the current pandemic brings to mind the related challenges that students, teachers, and parents have been facing since the lockdowns began. On the other hand, it is also true that this crisis may be seen as an opportunity to rethink how our schools should look like to be able to deliver good education to our students, in spite of possible disturbances like the one we are going through now.
Flexible learning refers to the combination of different methods of teaching, including the use of online platforms and digital or printed modules. Under this new system, universities and colleges will be adopting a mix of different learning and teaching methods based on their specific situations. More prepared universities will move ahead with all the online classes, while others may allow some of their students to come back at different times and “do more synchronous versus asynchronous learning.”
The Covid-19 pandemic challenged our ideas about instruction and affected all aspects of education, including funding, the role of technology, attendance, and so on. It highlighted inequalities in income and the physical/mental capacities of our students, as well as presented technical difficulties to both students and educators. Parents have been complaining about the lack of individual attention and face-to-face interaction among the students. There are the issues of Zoom fatigue, inefficient Internet connectivity, and mental health problems—it is, indeed, not an exaggeration to say that the current crisis is changing the face of education forever. Our schools will never be the same again—this is the reality we must come to terms with.
There are groups that say remote learning is not for everyone, and that students learn best when instruction is done in person. Remote learning, they say, should only be a supplement, and not a substitute, for in-school instruction. They do have a point, but there are education experts, too, who believe that virtual schools are the only form or structure of formal learning/teaching that has the capability to outlast the pandemic, or future pandemics for that matter.
Our local higher education agency operates based on the belief that “there is no going back” to the traditional system. De Vera said that if we go back to full-packed, face-to-face classrooms, we will “run the risk of exposing our educational stakeholders to the same risks if another pandemic comes in.” He also noted that the investments in technology, teacher training, and retrofitting of facilities to adjust to the current situation will all be undermined if the country does not adopt the new norm.
All sectors in education have been adjusting extremely well, giving rise not just to educational innovations but also to creativity, resourcefulness, and diligence. Given all these and our learning experiences this past year, I believe that we will overcome.