By Joseph B.A. Marzan
Education after the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will be different from what learners have been used to, according to Department of Education (DepEd) Iloilo City Schools Division Superintendent Luz De Los Reyes.
De Los Reyes told Daily Guardian in a phone interview that the most recent school year had been the worst in the department’s history, given the novelties and challenges of the current health situation.
“At this time, we are doing our best to alleviate the fears and worries of people, so that we wouldn’t bear the brunt of what our teachers and personnel are currently going through. This is definitely the worst school year for the DepEd,” De Los Reyes said.
The Iloilo City Schools Division used mainly a blended learning system comprised of learning packets with modules and online synchronous classes with teachers.
De Los Reyes said that they did not opt for the radio-based learning mode due to high airtime rates by radio stations but with limited actual airtime.
She enumerated the three “main challenges” that the DepEd Iloilo City faced in the first round of the “new normal” educational system in the country.
These included the uncertainty of the pandemic, technological challenges, and slow acceptability by parents to the new learning modes.
The uncertainty of the pandemic dealt with the situation of Iloilo City being a “hotspot” for COVID-19, as many teachers, learners, and parents were infected. They also had to adjust to educational arrangements at home.
This led to the technological challenges, which involved a lot of situations such as familiarity of the teachers with technology, delays in printing and reproduction of modules, and problems with internet connectivity both in homes and schools.
There were also delays in the procurement of supplies, laptops, and tablets for the teachers because of the high demand not only from the education sector.
De Los Reyes said the DepEd had already spent P15 million to buy more than 500 laptops for teachers, out of a P40 million support given by the Iloilo City government.
The city government also provided P49 million for office and school supplies such as paper and ink to be used in printing and reproducing modules.
De Los Reyes said concerns over learners’ assessment emerged from the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic and the technological challenges.
“We couldn’t see the learners, we couldn’t see whether or not they are answering their modules. We have to see, are we wasting our resources? When modules are sent, some are unanswered, and some are answered by parents. Our biggest challenge in how we teach, really is how to assess the performance of our learners when it comes to learning using the modes we are applying,” she added.
As to the acceptability by parents, De Los Reyes said that this was also due to the pandemic and technological challenges.
She said they were somewhat affected by negative comments against the DepEd, including 8888 hotline complaints over learning modules.
But these challenges will motivate them to be able to do better in continuing the blended learning mode this year.
“We ourselves, instead of getting inspired, we lose appetite and our spirits get dampened because some are just waiting for the negative aspects of our implementation. But we have been trying our best when it comes to improving. When it comes to this school year, we have learned from the previous year, and hopefully that this time it will be better,” she said.
Aside from the challenges that the public education system in the city faced this school year, De Los Reyes also reflected on the lessons and realizations they had learned in their experience.
Teachers and supervisors are coming up with lessons that are more relevant, significant, and enjoyable, which she said improved the performance of learners in the city.
Needs for online classes with manual guides on how to do blended learning were provided to teachers with assistance from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Australian Aid (AusAid).
The DepEd also provided webinars on mental health, wellness, and professional development through the course of the pandemic to aid them.
As for the learners, the DepEd Iloilo City introduced a ‘Kanta-Basa’ style where they are provided activity sheets that can be used to sing the lessons. The learning mode has a target language where the learners can identify words immediately through songs and enjoyable activities.
De Los Reyes attributed the new learning delivery method to the evolving nature of learners’ “restless” behavior, which also allowed educators to evolve.
The aim is for learners to tackle their subjects like mathematics while also acquiring basic life and survival skills.
De Los Reyes said they hope that DepEd Iloilo City can complete more materials relevant to the new normal in the coming school year.
“If we were going to follow [the usual pre-pandemic] lessons, maybe it wouldn’t reflect on their [learners’] situations at home. So as much as possible, we would come up with activities and projects where learners can enjoy answering their learning modules, coming up with integrated lessons which they can apply to their day-to-day life at home,” she said.
She also shared that the effects of the pandemic made them come up with a ready Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) for the coming school year.
Teachers and DepEd personnel already have protocols in place when they have COVID-like symptoms.
Up to 52 percent of teachers have been vaccinated in Iloilo City and they are only waiting for more vaccines.
DepEd Iloilo City predicts that they may probably vaccinate all teachers in the city’s public schools by end-August.
“We cannot take for granted the situation of the virus. We have teachers who have been infected, with three who had died, and many who are sick right now. Whenever we spot a positive [COVID-19 case], we immediately ask them to voluntarily isolate themselves. We have basic instructions to the schools for teachers not to report when they start showing symptoms,” De Los Reyes said.
She also cited their struggles at their office in City Proper, where they resorted to cooking their own meals. They also hired job-order drivers to ferry employees to and from the office.
She said that through all of the challenges, they are happy that the regional and central offices of the department have consistently provided supervision and assistance to weather the current issues in the educational system.
“We are happy that the DepEd [regional and central offices] are not ignoring us. As a government agency, DepEd is taking care of its people, and the local government unit is taking care of us in the city. Despite the pandemic, there are opportunities to inspire people, encourage them, and make them feel happy. As superintendent, my number one role is to inspire our personnel, our teachers, and our learners and their parents,” De Los Reyes said.
THE WAY FORWARD
For School Year (2021-2022), DepEd Iloilo City will be open its first farm school at the Tiu-Cho-Teg Ana Ros Foundation Integrated School (TCT-ARFIS) in Jaro district this school year.
The curriculum and materials are being developed in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and the City Agriculture Office.
Course subjects will include the usual curriculum in basic education schools, albeit with additional subjects in agriculture.
De Los Reyes said there are 39 enrollees in the pioneer batch of the farm school. These learners will receive tablets from the DepEd Iloilo City so that they can study in the comfort of their homes.
DepEd Iloilo City is also maintaining and strengthening the existing Gulayan sa Paaralan gardens in select public schools across the city.
“We need sustainability when it comes to food, and our youth even their parents can learn a lot about agriculture. We will also strengthen the Gulayan sa Paaralan. We have parent volunteers in Nabitasan so they may harvest and earn little income out of those gardens. We are beautifying our schools, and at the same time our learners and parents are benefitting from them,” De Los Reyes said.
For learners in other barangays, the DepEd Iloilo City is actively seeking partnerships with barangays to create learning centers to accommodate a maximum of 5 learners who can access the internet for access to their ‘Kanta-Basa’ modules.
The city government has also provided many facilities in preparation for face-to-face classes. This is in addition to many buildings in existing schools which have been refurbished and repaired.
The Special Education Fund of the city government has been earmarked for handwashing facilities, Closed-Circuit Television cameras in schools, and laptops, televisions, and additional high-quality equipment.
De Los Reyes said Iloilo City currently does not have any pilot areas for face-to-face learning, citing Mayor Jerry Treñas’ refusal to host pilot schools to test out new modalities.
In DepEd’s Basic Education LCP, there will be a maximum of only 20 learners in one classroom. They will attend classes every other day, at most 3 days per week, instead of 5 straight days.
De Los Reyes said that learning in face-to-face classes will never be the same, and it may take a long time before schools can get back to pre-pandemic modalities.
“We couldn’t do anything, this is now the situation. When we return to face-to-face one day, it will be limited. We cannot go back to where we were before [the pandemic]. We are preparing our teachers and personnel to adjust to the new situation. We cannot expect to be at the same place we were. We do believe that we can come back to how things were then, but not soon, maybe a long time,” she said.
DepEd Iloilo City will kick off its Brigada Eskwela on August 20 simultaneously with other divisions in Western Visayas, in preparation for the opening of classes on September 13.