How do we help teachers help learners in a pandemic? RCTQ asks education leaders through an FGD
The COVID-19 pandemic will soon send teachers to the frontlines of ensuring learning continuity when schools reopen in October 2020. How much challenges will they face, and what can be done to help them deliver education to their students?
On 28 April 2020, select education leaders and the RCTQ team converged online to discuss doable strategies in helping teachers amidst such an unusual situation. A two-hour focus group discussion (FGD), facilitated by RCTQ Director Dr. Gina Gonong, tackled a wide range of issues—from the provision of training and support for teachers to the challenge of distance teaching in remote or rural areas with weak or no internet connectivity. Information from the FGD will guide RCTQ’s work that is relevant to supporting teachers in the country.
FGD participants were guided by questions broken down into four sets: i) how school leaders and the teachers they knew were coping with the current situation, ii) their views on teaching platforms, iii) their views on the most accessible and preferable teaching platforms including those that teachers would be most prepared/equipped to use; and iv) their recommendations.
Among the first to share about how teachers were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic was Dr. Marilyn Siao, Assistant Schools Division Superintendent from the Leyte Division in Eastern Visayas. Like many Filipinos stuck in their homes in an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), she shared that teachers in her division have been adjusting well to the ‘new normal,’ but are also longing for the old normal. Because only four (4) percent of these teachers have had the chance to be trained on distance learning, many of them registered with various online training sessions that they have access to while on summer break.
The same observation was shared by Dr. Chinita A. Tolentino, Public Schools District Supervisor from the Division of Lucena City: “Teachers are positively adjusting to the ‘new normal’. They have been attending online training on the different modalities of teaching and learning. They also started to gather the status of internet connections of our teachers and learners in order to determine the kind of materials and modalities that we will adopt in the coming school year.”
“The DepEd central office has already distributed the essential learning competencies. We are now actually looking into doing an inventory of our hard modules to address the essential learning competencies that can be converted to interactive materials,” Dr. Siao said.
Dr. Enerio E. Ebisa, Principal IV of Tambo Central School in Iligan City, said that online teaching is a promising modality but only if both teachers and learners have all the necessary resources. “A lot of factors can deter or accelerate its implementation including the readiness of schools, teachers, learners, and parents. It will be a long battle, but I see that we can have it thrive in the ‘new normal’,” Dr. Ebisa said.
Various platforms for various needs
Ms. Marylou Argamosa, Principal I of Palapas Elementary School in Ligao City, admitted that while online teaching works for others, it is not necessarily true with teachers who have only been teaching for a year or two, and with struggling learners or those who cannot learn independently on their own. At least 20 percent of learners in her school, she said, are challenged to adapt to this modality.
Challenges vary depending on the peculiar needs of schools, learners and teachers. Multimodal approaches in learning delivery can be adopted to address various learning situations.
“In a single family alone, we can find several concerns like the absence of a television set, radio, gadgets, compounded by the lack of internet access”, said Ms. Gerlie C. Lopez, Principal 1 of Wawa National High School in Batangas. “We have learners who are struggling readers. We really have to address each one of these concerns. One alternative is to provide modules in hard copies and then prioritize sending them to those with no access to digital and online resources from their homes. Struggling readers can be brought back to traditional classrooms, depending on the level of pandemic risks in the area.”
Dr. Filmore Caballero, Chief Education Supervisor of the Division of the Valenzuela and former Principal IV of Valenzuela National High School, said their teachers are stepping up to deliver their lessons through various modalities.
“Our teachers have agreed to prepare worksheets which can be printed for other mode of learning delivery. DepEd and LGU in our area are collaborating to print these worksheets to cater to those who have no access online,” Dr Caballero said.
Dr. Luz Osmeña, OIC-Assistant Schools Division Superintendent of Bacoor City, shared that because of poor connection in their schools, they will have to explore ways to deliver blended learning in order for their learners to continue schooling.
Availability of computers
When Dr. Caballero surveyed their teachers, he found out that only around 35% of them have laptops and other gadgets. While teachers and school heads are not officially allowed to purchase computers using DepEd funds, participants shared that the problem on the availability of laptops or tablets can be addressed in multiple ways, including through the Schools Division’s budget. Dr. Marife Morcilla, Education Program Supervisor from the Division of Lipa City, said the local government unit can also be tapped to earmark their Special Education Funds (SEF) for this purpose. Mr. Carlos Llamas, a school principal detailed at the Bureau of Human Resource and Organizational Development (BHROD) said the procurement of laptops can be included in the schools’ Learning Continuity Plan.
Poor internet connectivity
The problem in access to computers is not as pervasive as the poor internet connectivity. For those who have laptops to use, this is a major setback in their effort to stay connected. Dr Caballero, whose school is one of the biggest in Metro Manila, said most of their learners have gadgets but only 30% have internet connection. Ms. Lopez said that only 15-20 percent of their learners can connect to the internet. Dr. Siao also said only 28 percent of their teachers have internet connection.
Mr. Mark Anthony P. Idang, Principal I of Don Manuel Rivera Memorial National High School in Laguna, shared that while many teachers and learners in his school can adjust to an online classroom setting, they are challenged by the poor internet signals in their area. “In fact, I have teachers who are not communicating with me because of the weak, if not lack of, phone and internet signals in their respective homes,” he said. Only 27 percent of their learners, he said, can access the DepEd Commons, the agency’s online learning delivery platform.
Use of existing learning materials
Making resources available, however, does not necessarily mean creating new materials for teachers and learners. Dr. Ken Vine, Principal Research Adviser of the SiMERR National Research Centre at the University of New England in Australia who joined the discussion, suggested that instead of creating new online teaching materials, “DepEd should be aware that the time and cost involved in building high quality online material is a known unknown.”
“DepEd should leverage whatever learning resources they already have rather than try to build new online materials and deploy them quickly,” Dr Vine said.
Aside from the DepEd Commons, DepEd has the Learning Resource (LR) Portal which is designed to support distribution and access to learning, teaching and professional development resources at the region, division and school/cluster levels of the Department.
Systematic and coordinated planning from DepEd central office to the school level emerged as the most suggested next step for DepEd leaders. School head Dr. Ebisa suggested that because principals are preparing the Learning Continuity Plans (LCPs), schools divisions should collate them and identify which ones are more effective. These LCPs, he said, must be given technical assistance (TA) for them to be implemented successfully. The use of SEF to address the schools’ needs during this crisis should also be given utmost importance.
Acknowledging that teachers are not really prepared for this scenario being the first of its kind, Dr. Morcilla suggested for the the Curriculum Implementation Division (CID) from each schools division to develop worksheets that integrate subjects like English, Math, Science which would take shorter time to read it. For Supervisor, have online conference with teachers so that they could have TA in terms of things that bother them most or they are not familiar with. She said parents should also be assisted in the learning delivery that takes place in their homes.
Dr. Osmeña, an OIC SDS, said that if schools have funds from their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE), they should design programs to improve computer literacy of their teachers. A similar recommendation was shared by Dr. Siao, who said that education leaders should look at how financial resources and budgetary expenditures can be realigned during this pandemic. She also suggested “bringing more partners on board” as she advised their School Governance and Operations Division (SGOD) to look out for more partners who can possibly help.
Moving forward through this pandemic, former BHROD director Ms. Maria Lourdes Pantoja suggested that the DepEd central office be able to draw post-COVID scenarios and provide specific strategies for dealing with each of them.
“I strongly suggest the review of policies that affect our teachers and learners during this crisis. In whatever teaching and learning scenario, we have to ensure the health and wellness, and safety of both teachers and learners all the time,” Ms. Pantoja said. (Arvin Yana/RCTQ)https://www.rctq.ph/?p=1313FeatureCOVID-19