One of the sectors that took a beating at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was education. The UNICEF, which continues to advocate for the resumption of in-person classes in various countries, mentioned in an article that in 2020, while schools globally were forced to suspend operations for an average of 79 days, schools in the Philippines did not hold face-to-face classes for more than a year and opted instead to have classes through online and distant learning modalities.
The indefinite suspension of classes and the subsequent, abrupt shift to new forms of learning modalities posed several challenges, particularly for marginalized students, such as unequal access to gadgets and online resources. This was another blow to the country which, prior to the pandemic, was already struggling to raise the quality of basic education.
If there is a silver lining, the pandemic shone a light on a not-so-glaring truth: the pivotal role of educational institutions in child rearing and caretaking. When parents had to work from home, they struggled to fulfill their duties as employees and home keepers. These were responsibilities that before the pandemic did not pose any challenge to parents as they had support from teachers in caring and promoting the welfare of their children.
It is not hard to see the reason behind the fervent calls of organizations to persuade schools to conduct face-to-face classes, considering the reduced number of COVID-19 cases and the massive rollout of vaccination efforts. A World Bank policy note cited that school closure can lead to learning loss, as well as adverse effects on students’ current and future welfare. The UNICEF echoes this stance, enumerating in a 2021 article the results of studies showing that children’s experiences in the classroom are good predictors of their “future social, emotional and educational outcomes”.
Seen from an economic standpoint, the World Bank earlier said they see an estimated loss in earnings of $10 trillion for today’s generation of learners if governments fail to implement resumption of face-to-face classes. UNESCO, in an article, also expressed fears that a prolonged period of suspension of in-person classes will put a dent on earning capacity and work productivity of parents, as they are likely to miss work and stay at home, even when required to work on-site, to attend to the needs of their children who take online classes.
Two years after the government implemented lockdowns and strict safety restrictions to quell the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the DepEd has formally opened schools for face-to-face classes. This notwithstanding, here are some lessons that we should carry with us as we move toward Education 4.0 which advocates for the improvement of basic education through increased utilization of technology.
Adopt a recovery response plan
One of the strategies UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank in their Mission: Recovering Education 2021 program have underscored is to open more schools for in-person learning. To add, schools can benefit from the adoption of recovery response plans to help address learning gaps.
The DepEd announced in March this year that part of its post-pandemic initiatives to aid schools is to create a recovery framework that schools can implement. Moving forward, educational institutions stand to gain from these recovery response plans which may include initiatives like regular monitoring and assessment of students and incorporation of a mix of on-site and digital learning systems and teaching strategies.
Implement remedial learning
To bridge learning gaps due to limited instructional time during the pandemic, it is advisable for schools to include remedial learning in their priorities starting this school year. Tutorial programs on top of daily school assignments should be considered. Results of remedial learning programs can be used to assess the numerical and literacy skills of each student and from there, schools can improve their existing teaching strategies and tailor them to address the needs of their students.
Provide support to teachers
In this digital age, teachers must also be able to adapt to technological advances to be able to prepare their students for Education 4.0. This means that schools also have the responsibility of ensuring that faculty members undergo regular and continuous learning and skills training, focused on how to deliver instruction effectively through both physical and remote means. It goes without saying that private educational institutions must start to invest more on digital tools that faculty must be adept in using.
As we slowly make our way in the new normal and toward recovery from the drastic impacts of the pandemic, there is one important lesson that schools must keep: the way to go is to embrace innovation. While it is uncertain whether we would ever have to weather another global epidemic as large in scale as the COVID-19 pandemic in the future, it is best to be prepared. For schools, they can do this by cultivating an innovative mindset and by going out of their way to support students and teachers alike.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 31 August 2022