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Full Face-to-Face Classes are Back!



The traditional face-to-face classes are back!


After two school years of remote learning and a year of part-remote transitioning into the complete return to school last year, the year 2023 is now back to traditional face-to-face classes amid the COVID-19 Pandemic. Students fill the school rooms and corridors, and teachers are at their posts. With low pay, soaring high prices, and inflation now at 8.7% high in January, parents or guardians continue to stress where and how to pay enrollment and miscellaneous fees for their children’s schooling. But once they are at the campus, the laughter and exchanges among almost everyone are comparatively infectious.


As I watch the students queue up along the corridors of the second floor of the JCJ Building of Mariners Polytechnic Colleges Foundation (MPCF) in Canaman to enroll for the second semester, I felt a temporary surge of joy and delight. The new enrollees were all smiles as they watched the returning students make a snappy salute at every school official or faculty they met along the way. That could never be possible online.


The word surge used to be a regular Pandemic word to refer to a Covid surge or resurgence at any particular place of incidence. This time, the feeling of the surge is not of fear, dread, or danger. Instead, a surge of excitement to meet new students and partners has taken over. Like the rest of the faculty, the new Dean of Maritime Studies, Capt. Efren Flora, eagerly awaits his new assignment and looks forward to a more meaningful interaction with the students and his peers. The VP of Academic Affairs, Dr. Egay Despi, who has been with Mariners for over two decades, has become busier with the younger Student Affairs Services Director Dakila Capistrano. The goal remains: molding of a Total Marinero, professional, imbued with a holistic education ad training. The crew of the facilities led by Engr. Aldrin Velasco is up and about to ensure acceptable safety measures for classrooms. Over at the MPCF Legazpi campus, Lady President Merle San Pedro went on rounds of ocular check-ups with her admin team around the buildings and at the Mariners-by-the-Sea extension site where the Olympic-size swimming pool and seamanship laboratory nearby require more development intervention.


With face-to-face classes, there are more physical and infra pressures. The rooms and facilities are where the teachers and the students meet in one contiguous place at a set time for group class lessons and training. There’s nothing like connecting and reacting with each other physically even with the Pandemic still in place. The Mariners Cafe, operated by the JaimEliza, is now abuzz with more walk-in students but needs to expand to accommodate an increasing population of diners.


Remote and hands-on learning


Science, technology, and innovation (ST&I) are crucial in learning today. I browse but feel frustrated when I cannot catch up on the latest technology. Upgrading is the name of the game. Today, everyone’s talking about ChatGPT and Bard by Google, which can generate all forms of information, like lesson plans and even a thesis! So, what else is new?


But I have a tremendous bias toward F-2-F learning and meetings. We learn by actual practice. Face-to-face learning is the most effective way to acquire knowledge and skills because it can combine various creative ways of learning, including reading, writing, engagement in critical discussions, making presentations, innovating projects, encouraging group work, producing film clips, and demonstrating. There is less distraction, more focus, interaction with the teachers, and more comfort in learning without the pressures behind your back. Students must complete tasks, solve problems, and connect with varied people. Learning becomes social and practiced.


From an engineer named Rey Viluan of the Filipino Inventors Society and multi-awarded scientist and maritime expert Dr. Henry Molintas, based in the US, the value of having a more actual hands-on laboratory to stimulate invention, creativity and critical thinking is more emphasized. They were online guests at the last JCJ Inter-school Maritime Forum that my office organized recently to tackle the challenges in the maritime industry, education, and training.


State of Education


But, a reality check is in place as we return to traditional in-person learning. Educational surveys and assessments from decades past up to today show the Philippine educational system has remained in crisis. It needs to scale up as it faces increasing local and global challenges. There have been many interventions across all administrations, including the 13-year education called K-12 program mandated by law. Despite this, the Philippines continues to rank high dropout rates and poor performance in national and international achievement tests. In Bicol, reading comprehension is one of the country’s lowest, and the Brigada Pagbasa of the DepEd is struggling to address this gap among the children of the poor.


Good education is not only about belonging to the old or new school of learning. Face-to-face learning is indeed a more meaningful learning atmosphere. But it should also come with the other essential ingredients: well-paid teachers and access to better facilities and technology. More important, are the learners - the students- who come to school well-fed, not hungry, a safe environment and decent shelter to come home to, and access to health care.


After all, the best learning is always hands-on and better experienced. However, the problem still is economical. If there is no social change, the majority of the students who face extreme poverty may not even be able to enroll and join the mainstream in F-2-F classes this year.

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