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Survey shows need for holistic approach in children’s learning

“Dae po pwede, mayong load, mayong gadget, mayong signal… mayong kakanon, mabuang na ako, Mam,” one parent quite tearfully told me in one meeting at the TBM pilot community in Canaman, Camarines Sur. She responded to the question posed online on Zoom a week after the webinar: “Kaya pa ninyo ang isa pang taon ng modular at online learning?” Her response was straightforward, direct, and spontaneous.

The mother’s bitterness is validated by a Bicol-wide survey that TBM conducted recently in cooperation with Dep-Ed Region V and DSWD Region V.

In my column last week, I wrote about how disorienting and stressful the first and a half year of modular distance learning has been since the start of the Pandemic in 2020. No matter how much effort one exerts to make this learning work every weekday, the challenges in understanding the modules and conditions at home are overwhelming. So, I joined the team of my peers, Dr. Cely Binoya and Dr. Marilisa Ampuan, in conducting an online pre-webinar survey among 3,000 target participants, of whom 1,526 responded. That second MHPSS webinar ended with Dr. Binoya and Dr. Ampuan, presenting the results of the pre-webinar survey in a PowerPoint presentation, “Mental Stress among Teachers, Parents, and Students: An Analysis.”

Through the survey, we wanted to know the views and sentiments of Bicol teachers, parents, and learners on the overall implementation of modular learning. What were their particular experiences - problems and issues -- as they went through modular learning the past year? What do they feel about the modular approach? What were the main stressors that impede the education of the students? How did the teachers, parents, and learners cope, and what are their suggestions for improving as well as removing, or reducing the stressors in remote learning?

Modular learning is a form of distance learning that uses self-learning modules which the parents or guardians of the children pick up from school to learn at home. These self-learning modules come from the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCS) developed by the Department of Education. Of course, every home varies in situation. But to a large degree, modular learning is the dominant mode of learning among low-income families where online learning is next to impossible. So how did it impact the teachers, parents, and most of all, the students?

We chose the survey as our data collection tool because we can create the instrument quickly given the short period before the webinar, and it can be administered promptly at no cost. We drew up the questionnaire in simple Filipino (Tagalog) for better understanding, avoiding loaded, leading, and double-barreled questions. We focused on five main problems and five suggestions that we asked the parents, teachers, and learners to rank according to importance or priority. We made our introduction intimate as if we were talking to a brother or sister appealing to them to answer truthfully toward improving remote learning during the Pandemic. The survey was part of our preparation for our second webinar with the theme, “The Home is the school: Creating Conducive Learning Environment at Home to reduce or mitigate Stress.”

The survey focused on the home as the center of today’s learning. In a nutshell, the questionnaire ended with the gentle challenge in Filipino, “Lahat po ng inyong sagot ay aming pangangalagaan bilang ‘confidential responses,’ laluna sa paghanap ng remedyo sa mga ‘stressors’ sa remote learning para maging ganado o interesado ang ating mga kabataan sa pag-aaral sa loob ng tahanan.” We reviewed and tested first the questionnaire among a group of individuals not involved with TBM. A group of security guards at Mariners quickly accomplished the survey and gave positive feedback.

Dr. Binoya then sent out the survey by Google Form to the email addresses of the target respondents. With the cooperation of DepEd as the leading partner, TBM used the data collection survey to gather information – opinions-- from a targeted group of people among their population of teachers, parents, and learners. We also included the organized sectors of the DSWD who had email addresses. Those who did not have email addresses participated in the Zoom Breakout rooms and FB chat boxes as part of the validation process.

Within a week, TBM received 1,526 responses out of 3,022 emails forwarded. What happened to the other half, we can only surmise that most had not been able to check their emails within the time of the survey, or some may have chosen not to participate at all. Interestingly, we had a 100% participation from all six provinces in the region, namely: 1) Albay- 612 or 40.1%; 2) Sorsogon- 415 or 27%; 3) Camarines Sur – 457 or 30.0%; 4) Masbate – 24 or 1.6%; 5) Camarines Norte, Catanduanes and other provinces/abroad – 18 or 1.1%. Expectedly, more teachers participated in the survey – 605 (48%); parents 481 (38%); and students 244 (19%). In addition, there were more women (85%) than men; Respondents were young from 21 to 35 years old.

Overall, the TBM survey shows that while a majority (51.9%) across all sectors agreed that remote learning (modular and online) is the most applicable mode of education for students during the Pandemic, 76% of the respondents found it “nakakapagod” or tiring! The DepEd was not yet prepared in implementing the modular approach, according to 31% of the respondents. But a good 49.3% of the respondents saw teachers’ readiness in responding to the parents’ issues and concerns in home learning. Teachers encountered great difficulty in monitoring whether the students did the modules or not (59.3%), while 46.4% said young learners were too slow in the MELCs. A significant number of the teachers admitted being afraid of getting COVID which explains why they cannot make home visitations as regular as needed. Nearly 70% of parents found it difficult in helping their children in modular learning because they work – at home or outside -- to earn a living. Another problem is parents admit not knowing what to teach their children (41.2%) or if their children would believe them. Add to this, the students from grade school to high school who responded to the survey encountered varied problems ranging from 1) difficulty to understand the modules (35.1%) and inability to teach the younger siblings at home; 2) aside from having no conducive place inside the home to study and learn (18.4%).

The problems become more alarming if we put them alongside the Philippine Informal Reading Inventory (Phil-IRI) data cited in a 2019 study of the DepEd which found 70,000 grade school students in Bicol cannot read in English and Filipino. In the Philippines, learning poverty (defined as being unable to read and understand a story at age 10) has worsened and is now at 90 percent! Sad to note also on larger scale, 15-year-old students in the Philippines scored the lowest in Asia in reading comprehension in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). PISA is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that examines students’ knowledge in reading, mathematics, and science.

The situation in Bicol is once again a wake-up call to the generally backward socio-economic conditions in the region. A favorite African proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child,” comes to mind. A whole-government-community holistic approach is critical to ensure that our children enjoy their rights in a safe and healthy environment. Learning is the multi-dimensional responsibility of the whole government with the people and their communities to ensure holistic development for the intellectual, mental, physical, emotional and social abilities of the child everywhere in the country. It is an integrated function, the reason why TBM with the Dep-Ed invited the DSWD, the DILG, the academe like the Mariners, CBSUA, civil society like CDP, PODIS, Ilaw ng Kababaihan, the media (DWNX-RMN and the Bicol Mail), the church and, two medical and health experts, Dr. Ofelia Samar-Sy and Dr. Susan Balingit and other stakeholders to the webinar.

What can we do to address the stressors of learning? TBM and respondents suggest organizing the children’s tasks to have time for work, education, play, rest, to be safe and secured in their own homes, be fed well, and with teachers making regular home visits. I think the survey results lead us deeper into the more significant issues of the stressors in learning. We have not even touched on the problem of internet connectivity. In the search for solutions, let’s dig deep into the survey and do something about the root of the problem in Bicol: of poverty at 26.8% reflected in the high malnutrition rate at 36% of children 5 to 10 years old, and 39 % of 10 to 19 years old were stunted, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute. (Written in commemoration of the World Children’s Day, November 20, 2021).


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