The sudden shift in teaching method at the height of the pandemic, from the traditional talk and chalk to online or distant education, forced the country’s educators to face the most jarring and rapid change that happened in their profession in the country’s history. In a moment’s notice, teachers were asked to leave their classrooms indefinitely and, in many cases, to recreate a learning environment that is 100 percent virtual.
Online teaching brought the worst and best in us, teachers, especially those who are not so tech-savvy, as we need to learn the computer skills needed to be effective teachers online.
As challenging as the transition was, it represents possibly the best-case scenario in what’s proven to be an incredibly inequitable educational landscape during the pandemic.
In the provinces, for example, some teachers and students that are the ones who were hit hard with this “new normal” in education suffered the most. One of the biggest challenges in rural areas is poor Internet signal, which gives us erratic and unreliable online connection. Other areas are even worse because there’s no Internet connection. In their desire to help learners, teachers in these areas need to improvise. For example, many of them decided to make their own modules using the local language.
Whereas some areas are conducting online learning in what has been described as a fairly seamless transition, teachers in many other towns are struggling to connect with students and families to ensure that their basic needs—including sufficient food—are being met.
Those emergency remote teaching experiences highlighted the barriers to digital learning and the adoption of technology-enabled education across the country.
Many students can’t afford to buy the devices they need. Other lucky ones who own smart devices can’t find reliable Internet connection. But even the students and teachers who have WiFi at home still found the experience of remote learning and teaching woefully inadequate.
Surveys suggest that nearly half of parents are dissatisfied with how their children have performed academically during the pandemic, while 70 percent of teachers feel that their students have not adapted well to remote learning.
When we asked students about their experience with the online teaching during the pandemic,interaction and participation was also identified as the biggest loss when comparing it to face-to-face classes. In addition, they faced a strong feeling of isolation by being physically separated from their classmates, as well as difficulty keeping their attention in front of the computer for long periods of time.
This new scenario has forced teachers and students alike to cope with unknown technologies within a very short timeframe. This has been a challenge in many ways for us educators, but it has also been a learning opportunity to improve our skills regarding online teaching.
Teaching and learning happen through interaction, and this has been the biggest challenge for our coordination team: To create opportunities for students to engage and interact among themselves and with their teachers. In this sense, Covid-19 has strengthened our belief in the importance of human interaction, non-verbal communication and spontaneity in making education a life-changing experience.
When the pandemic is finally over, many people envision their life returning to the way it was before Covid-19. But for teachers and their students, life may never return to what they used to know as “normal” schooling before the pandemic. It would not surprise us at all if some of our colleagues will start re-imagining the use of technology in education even inside the classroom where live interactions between learners and teachers take place.
The author is Teacher III and OIC at Alig Valley National High School in Allacapan, Cagayan.