Distance learning: A paradigm shift in Filipino education
By Ronnie V. Nabus
Traditional face-to-face learning modality has become a seemingly phased out education amidst the worldwide risk of COVID-19 pandemic. The main objective is to lessen the increased physical contact of school and community bodies and local transmission of the virus that has been a threat to public health and safety. But to ensure learning continuity, the government has promulgated the shift of education to alternative learning modalities (ADM) such as modular learning, television-based and radio-based instruction, online distance learning, and blended learning.
The Department of Education remains at its mission to promote the right of access to quality basic education by setting forth Flexible Learning Options that include the aforementioned alternative learning modes and its related learning resources that respond to the need, context, situation, and diversity of the learners.
What is distance education?
For Desmond Keegan (1980), there were four generally accepted definitions of distance education unifying to create a single definition of the term.
The French government, as part of a law passed in 1971, defined distance education as an education that either does not imply the physical presence of a teacher appointed to dispense it in the place where it is received or in which the teacher is present only on occasion or for selected tasks.
Börje Holmberg (1977) emphasized that distance education covers the different forms of study at all levels that are not under the continuous and immediate supervision of tutors present with their students in lecture rooms or on the same premises, but which, nevertheless, benefit from the planning, guidance, and tuition of a tutorial organization.
Keegan (1980) defined five primary elements of these definitions, using them to provide a comprehensive definition of distance education: (1) the partly-permanent separation of teacher and learner during the teaching-learning process, (2) the influence of an educational organization in planning and preparation of learning resource materials and in the provision of student support services, (3) the use of technical media such as audio, video, print, or computer, to bond teacher and learning in carrying the course content, (4) the provision of two-way communication so that the student may benefit from or even initiate dialogue, and (5) the partly-permanent absence of the learning group during the learning process so that people are usually taught as individuals and not in groups (i.e., occasional meetings for both didactic and socialization purposes).
The Filipino students and challenges in distance education
It has roughly 28 million Filipino students who have been impacted by the paradigm shift of education due to school closures meant to minimize the spread of COVID-19. Since March, Filipino students haven’t been back inside the classroom when President Rodrigo Duterte decreed a national public emergency. Government education bureaus had deliberated to allow a face-to-face learning interaction in schools and universities of low-risk areas, but in May, President Duterte established a “no vaccine, no classes” policy, keeping schools closed until further notice. At the time of viral outbreaks, distance education is seemingly the only viable way to continue education at a distance.
In a developing country of the Philippines where marginalized families need to prioritize basic daily living essentials such as foods and clothing, distance learning (particularly online) is apparently no choice to settle. The gap between the rich and the poor amidst the pandemic unveils an increased digital division. Resources might be available for some, but still not enough to strengthen the learning continuity for several areas, such as those from far-flung and remote. This challenges the main thrust of distance education to bring education to those who are inaccessible, less-privileged, under-resourced, and unreachable (Biana, 2013).
As to the forms of distance education, it is not necessarily limited to online learning. Some teachers are employing localized television programs, radio broadcasts, and other non-internet based media. Others are utilizing mobile phones and texting technology to facilitate learning. Simultaneously, others may have to send annotated physical textbooks through courier services to continue learning one way or another (Joaquin, Biana, & Dacela, 2020).
Prospero de Vera, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairperson, characterized that flexible learning is “more encompassing than online learning.” Reasons are flexible learning does not necessarily require internet connectivity and ponders on the design and delivery of content, courses, programs, and learning intervention, which resolves learners’ specific needs regarding the pace, place, process, and product of own learning (Parrocha, 2020).
For K-12 students, modular learning is the most common form of distance learning, in which students practice independent learning and submit their modules to teachers for grading. However, there’s still a necessity for the internet to do supplemental research on more complex tasks. This problem arises that DepEd survey shows approximately 20 percent of 6.5 million students utilize computer shops and public places to go online, and 2.8 million students have no means to go online at all (Santos, 2020).
The initiatives among distance education concerns
The weight is on the Department’s shoulders as rages get on to maximize the available workforce and education resources. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) considered government actions as “abandonment of education,” emphasizing how they were left as the education front liners while the health and socioeconomic crises are persistently raging on. Schools and teachers have been struggling to conduct online classes using faculty laptops and a personal internet connection, rushing to print unprovided parts of the modules, and reporting in schools without sufficient protective equipment against COVID-19. ACT also demanded urgent issuance of guidelines on work schedule and decreased teachers’ load in response to additional effort and time required by remote learning. These also urged Teacher’s Dignity Coalition to call for the government to deliver financial and institutional support for teachers who fall sick due to COVID-19 (Bernardo, 2020).
Professor Flora Arellano, E-Net Philippines president, also urged the government and DepEd to address the needs of poor and disadvantaged sectors for an inclusive, quality, and safe education in the new normal. These sectors include learners with disabilities, out-of-school youth, indigenous and Muslim learners, and the ‘last mile’ learners (Mocon-Ciriaco, 2020).
Still, supports and initiatives from various public and private sectors have been pouring out to strengthen distance education’s productivity and efficiency. The City Hall and City Schools Division of Makati (DepEd-Makati) close collaborated for the “On the Go” (OTG) flash drive distribution as part of Learner’s Package that “contains digitized self-directed modules and video broadcast editions dubbed DepEd-Makati VIBE.” The City Hall also provided public school teachers and students with a free five-hour free Internet daily allotment and distributed over 2,500 laptops to teachers. San Juan City government and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) also joined forces for “e-learning packages” distribution of free laptops, tablets, and pocket Wi-Fi as part of DICT’s Digital Learning project. Pasig City local government allotted ₱1.3 billion for laptops of teachers, tablets, and ICT essentials of public school students (Mocon-Ciriaco, 2020).
Globe Telecom established its own e-Library at globelibrary.ph that comprises more than 1,000 free e-book titles and e-learning videos for educators and students to view online and download offline, which can be accessed by Globe and TM subscribers without data charges. Together with PLDT and Smart Communications, Globe has also provided free data access to commons.deped.gov.ph, DepEd’s online learning platform to utilize supplementary online instructional materials. PLDT and Smart also delivered ten downloadable mother tongue-based literacy apps under #LearnSmart geared towards developing literacy, numeracy, and higher-order thinking skills among Kinder to Grade 3 students. Smart is also offering ten units of the School-in-a-Bag, a portable digital laboratory deliberated to assist continuous learning in times of emergencies and disasters (Mocon-Ciriaco, 2020).
Meanwhile, through the partnership of DepEd and GMA Network, 900 DepEd TV episodes since the class opening airing can now be re-watched and downloaded online from GMA’s digital platforms. The television network vowed to promote DepEd TV and blended learning to their viewers, which described Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis-Briones as a “way forward in the light of all the natural disasters” (DepEd, 2020).
DepEd, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has maximized Special Education Fund use through a release of Joint Circular No. 2, s. 2020. The SEF has designed beyond the provision of assistance in operation and maintenance of public schools; construction and repair of school facilities and equipment; education research and development; and sports enhancement. The funds can now be utilized in payments to produce textbooks, self-learning modules, activity sheets, and study guides quality-assured by the DepEd. External storage devices such as flash drives, hard drives, and communication expenses and procuring personal protective equipment and medical needs, and accessing mental health and psychosocial services can also be subsidized by the said fund (DepEd, 2020).