Dr. Leonilo B. Capulso. PhDc, SMRIEdr, Master Teacher, Speaker and Researcher, Philippines

A multi-award winning Filipino Master Teacher, Speaker and Researcher from Pampanga, Philippines, Leonilo Basas Capulso is a Senior High School Master Teacher at San Matias National High School, School Division Office of Pampanga, Region 3 of the Department of Education in Philippines with over two decades of teaching experience. He is the recipient of Asian Achiever Award (2019), Gawad Pat National Award (2019), Outstanding Research Advocate of The Philippines Award (2019) and Most Outstanding Teacher Award (2018). As a research advocate, it has been his advocacy to promote the culture of research by developing school-based research management in the region. He has initiated research capacity building for new researchers in the government and private schools. His network with other international organization became a bridge in hosting international research conferences in the Singapore, Bangkok, Philippines and Vietnam.

 The record high of COVID 19 cases in the Philippines reaches to 20,382 consisting 4,248 recoveries and 984 death cases as of June 4, 2020. Most of these new cases recorded were a by-product of the backlogged test results which were not accounted for on time due to the limitations of testing materials and the fact that some personnel of the agency in charge of verifying the test results were themselves hit by the same virus. Lately, many testing facilities were accredited by the Department of Health that resulted to the production of more up-to-date results, both positive and negative one.  As the government started to loosen its grip in the Community Quarantine in the Metro cities started this week, the different agencies and industries are gradually starting to gather and re-organize to regain resources and capital lost during the lockdown.  At the same time, other aspect of society, like education has to start re-assessing itself in order to move forward.

Secretary Leonor Briones of the Department of Education (DepEd), in charge of the K-to-12 Education in the Philippines, announces the Opening of Classes this August 24, 2020.  This is not the typical opening of classes in the basic education which normally starts on the first Monday of June every year. This decision of DepEd, the education agency, was based on the recommendation of Inter-Agency Task Force which was in charged to oversee the general welfare of all sectors of society especially concerning health issues. Moreover, this is also in accord with the Republic Act 7797 which dictates that school opening should not be beyond the last day of August of every year.  However, this reality did not leave the department some challenges brought about by COVID 19.  Hence, Educational Leaders of the Central Office in consultation with other stakeholders both from public and private agencies crafted some policies and guideline in order to sustain the quality of K12 education despite the pandemic.

The Learning Continuity Plan
A concerted effort in the department gave birth to a bigger framework known as the Learning Continuity Plan, that will serve as the guiding principles of the whole K12 Educational System.  As mentioned by Dr. Nicolas Capulong, DepEd Region III Director, the  Learning Continuity Plan is the major response & commitment in ensuring the health, safety & well-being of learners, teachers, personnel in time of COVID 19 while finding ways for education to continue amidst the crisis for the upcoming school year.  This educational framework is composed of different important pillars such: School Readiness, Human Resources, Infrastructure readiness, Transition Program. Building Partnership, Teaching and Learning Modalities and Assessment centred on the Development of the Most Essential Skills and Values of the learners. The same continuity plan is taken charge by the School Governance and Management adopted by every region and school’s division offices around the countryside. Contextualization brought about by differences in culture and tradition are however taken into consideration in the local school jurisdiction.  Private Institutions in every region are also allowed to draft their own Learning Continuity Plan based on their own needs and practices. Furthermore, the same private institution are even allowed to open classes earlier than August 24 provided the same institution ha properly laid down their LCPs.

The Most Essential Learning Competencies
The three months delay in the opening of the classes in K12 Education requires the Department of Education to adjust the learning competencies of the students. Hence, the Most Essential Learning Competencies was crafted.  Here, the curriculum makers and other stakeholders identified only the most essential competencies that can be covered within the school year considering the shortened number of school days.  In Senior High School, for example, a typical 20-week sessions per subject were trimmed down to 16 weeks making it eight (8) weeks per term.  To do this, some competencies that will require students to do some performance output were removed from the original competencies. One factor that can also be seen here is again the limitation of possibility of performing the tasks due to the modality of instruction ( online or distance learning)  that will make it possible for students to do the required tasks. Moreover, the cooperative learning which usually became the mode of students performance will also be a limitation since most of the learners will be doing the competencies alone at home, or if allowed to be face-to-face, requires a social distancing system.

The Four Teaching Learning Modalities
The Department of Education adopted a four (4) teaching-learning modalities such as: (1) face-to-face; (2) blended learning; (3) distance learning and (4) home-schooling.  The first two modalities, face-to-face and blended learning will be adopted in areas of the country where there is no Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) and General Community Quarantine (GCQ). However, the last two modalities, distance learning and homeschooling, will apply in all areas under ECQ or GCQ.

Face-to-face modality, when adopted, is still subject to physical distancing & minimum health standards. Moreover, a minimum class size of fifteen (15) to twenty (20) students per classroom will also be observed. This class size is almost half, if not less than, the average 50 students class adopted in all government schools in the countryside.  A blended learning modality is a combination of face-to-face and online distance learning, modular distance learning, and /or TV/radio-based instruction. A distance learning modality which will be observed in areas under ECQ or GCQ will make use of either Modular distance Learning, Online Distance Learning or TV/Radio-based Instruction.  Modular distance learning is consisting of using printed materials crafted by some teachers and authors will be delivered to the household by the teachers or through the Local Government Officials. Online Distance Learning may make use of the modalities provided by the Department such DepEd Commons- a consortium of online materials developed by teachers and personnel of the Department placed in one website. The same materials can even be accessed by students using their own laptops or gadgets free of charge courtesy of the local telecommunication companies. The use of local TV/Radio stations can also be an alternative in coordination with the Presidential Communication Operations Office. The fourth modality is Homeschooling.  This modality is facilitated by qualified parents, guardians or tutors who have undergone relevant training and subject to regulation. Moreover, the policy to be used here is still under review.

Some Actual Steps in Facing the Challenges
Despite the opening of the classes by the last week of August, teachers were asked to report to school beginning June 2, 2020, virtually or physically.  The purpose of this is to prepare teachers in the possible changes in the teaching-learning modalities, strategies and even the physical situation in the school. This coincides with the annual “Brigada Eskweala” – a school brigade program to prepare the school and the “Balik Eskwela” or Back to School Program, all to provide a safe and friendly atmosphere both to learners and other stakeholders.

A series of webinars were also provided to teachers and administrators sponsored by the Department of Educator- Office of Information Technology, Open Education Resources and other private organizations and book publishing companies. Most of these capacity-building webinars were provided for free or with a very minimal fee.  Majority of the topics discussed in the sessions are on the use of multi-modal and flexible learning deliveries using Information and Communication Technology platforms, both online and offline. Dr Abram Abanil, DepEd Information & Communication Services, May 1, 2020, shared the initiative of the department of creating 60 eBooks per week done by their 1700 trained personnel which are all deposited in the DepEd Commons and its websites. The same division also trained 70,000 out of 900,000 teachers in Online training through Webinars. As mentioned earlier, a volume of printed materials was also provided to be used by learners of schools that have very weak internet connectivity or whose households have the scarcity of gadgets to be used.

The Role of Parents and Other Stakeholders
Since the education of young is the responsibility of the whole community, parents, Local Government Officials and Private Sectors also play an important role.  Undersecretary Sevilla of the Department of Education emphasized that parents should continue to teach children problem-solving skills and preparedness in case of emergencies while at home during the time of the pandemic. On the other hand, children, who are digital native, can teach older people on the proper use of technology. The Local Government Unit officials, however, need to re-align their resources & education goals within each community to support an ecosystem of students, teachers & parents.  Mr. Jorge Ching, in a local newspaper, uttered that the LGUs should assist in adjustment to new normal such as homeschooling, parents as teachers training, providing community internet centres and  Citizen Watch for Education, and establishing LGU Leaders as education champions.  According to Edric Mendoza, Chairman Homeschool Global Learning, parents should be trained to be facilitators of learning (technology) in home-based learning.

 Final Thoughts & Reflections
Despite this seemingly evil phenomenon of COVID 19 pandemic, Gelix Mercader, a Filipino Educator offers simple ways in embracing the new normal in education in the Philippines. He shares\d the 3-As to brave COVID 19.  The first A is to ADAPT to the Situation. Filipinos are known for being flexible even in times of calamities. The smile in the faces of Filipinos manifest their being optimistic is embracing the challenges of life that made them survive and start a new beginning.  The second A is to ADOPT new ways of addressing teaching and learning. Just like a Philosopher Heraclitus who once said, “No one can step the same water twice”, teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders should realize that change is part of growth. Sometimes, accepting change is painful and difficult yet it will bring about a new realization that will bring about newness and stability. This is very much captured by my favourite adage which states, “A man who refuses to lose sight of the shore will never see the beauty of the ocean”.  The last A is to be ADEPT with the new ways of addressing the teaching and learning needs of the learners. This skill needs a lot of repetitive movement toward perfection. Many of the teachers, parents and guardians might have a hard time embracing this new normal of education yet gradually we will all be used to it and eventually discover a much better way to helping you to become better persons they are expected to become.

At the end of the day, as mentioned by Jorge Ching, the New Normal in education is not just about operating in an environment that secure the health of students & transitioning to online modalities. However, it is “using technology to increase efficiency in areas with the capacity to do so, while empowering learners & communities to create positive learning environments in which the student can grow.” Moreover, “It should not sacrifice quality but continue to provide equal opportunities, most especially to the marginalized and vulnerable sectors of society”. As St. Francis of Assisi once said, “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible! For at the end, “All Shall Be Well”.

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