Last March 2020, after a series of intensive consultations and spirited debates, then-President Rodrigo Duterte declared a lockdown in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, no one knew how long the night of terror would last. Schools were included in the declaration even as I stated that children were safest in schools where teachers could monitor them, health facilities were available, and local government units could provide immediate assistance. I warned my colleagues in government about learning losses and their consequences.
The next two years were followed by loud and endless debates. We were battered on all sides. Nonetheless, learning continued amid the noise. The Department of Education crafted a learning continuity program (LCP). Our battle cry was, “Learning must continue!”
The lockdown was declared just before the end of the academic school year and the start of the summer vacation. Part of the lockdown occurred during the summer break. Officially, there were no classes. Thus, DepEd had some breathing space to identify and select the Most Essential Learning Competencies (MELCs), prepare learning modules, build up our online platform known as the DepEd Commons, train teachers on online teaching, and mobilize the support of local government units, parents, and communities.
School buildings may have been closed, but we continue to open children’s minds and teach them critical thinking, working in cooperation with others, and help them discover new knowledge.
Because of the lockdown, some sectors had concluded that learning in the Philippines had also stopped. There were loud moans and groans that education in the country had come to a halt, and such misconceptions appeared in international and local media.
But did education stop in the Philippines?
The answer is a firm no. During School Year 2020-2021, schools opened on Oct. 5, 2020, with the approval of the President, and ended on June 11, 2021. Since face-to-face learning was not yet possible, blended learning was the preferred strategy, using various modalities — online, modular, TV-based, and radio-based.
In the following school year, 2021-2022, schools opened on Sept. 13, 2021, and they ended on June 24, 2022. Face-to-face classes are already being conducted. As for School Year 2022-2023, classes will open on Aug. 22, 2022 and end on July 7, 2023. By that time, face-to-face classes will be in full swing.
As of June 15, 2022, there are 32,144 public schools conducting face-to-face classes, which is 71.24% of the total number of public schools. At the same time, 1,048 private schools, or 8.48% of the total number of private schools, are already in face-to-face mode.
So what school closures were some people ranting about?
To repeat, school buildings may have been closed, but we continue to open children’s minds and teach them critical thinking, working in cooperation with others, and helping them discover new knowledge.
There are equally, if not more, valuable learning gains from alternative learning arrangements.
There have been obstacles, of course, with financing the most obvious and visible. But the most difficult obstacles are created by fellow humans who believe they know all about education and who, in spite of the truth staring them in the face, insist that they have all the right answers while DepEd has all the wrong ones. More obstacles? That would be fellow humans who have agenda beyond education.
Balancing science with the humanities
One very special challenge the pandemic brought to the fore was balancing science with the humanities — history and national identity, music, dance, and literature. I keep on reminding my DepEd family that we have a formidable catch-up challenge in education: We must make sure that our learners acquire foundational knowledge in science and mathematics. However, they must never forget that they are Filipinos and that they also have a shared history and culture.
I take special joy and happiness in introducing our teachers and learners to history and art amid the terrors of COVID-19 and the raucous noise of politics. Many of our learners watched Jose Rizal’s novel “Noli Me Tangere” in the form of an opera. They wept along with Sisa, Basilio, and Crispin. Teachers revisited Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world and the so-called “discovery” of the Philippines through stimulating webinars. They participated in debates about Lapulapu. They sang in choral groups and performed in theater productions.
Instead of becoming a place of terror, fear and uncertainty, the evolving world of education has become more exciting.
For the past two years, “experts” have been mourning learning losses. I myself thought that education removed from the face-to-face setup would result in losses. I now know that there are equally, if not more, valuable learning gains from alternative learning arrangements. Children learned to be more independent in their studies; parents relearned the lessons they passed on to their children; local governments became more creative; school officials started rethinking their traditional notions of space and classrooms. The assessment of learner performance changed as well. And creativity became the norm, supplanting the traditional way of learning.
How will education evolve after two years? Of course, after COVID-19, I see education moving on to the future.
Education’s evolution will depend on the policy directions of the new Secretary of Education. Senior high school is covered by law. The salaries of teachers are regulated by the Civil Service Commission and the Department of Budget and Management, and these have to be standardized in relation to the salaries of other government employees. The influence of the international community, like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, will also impact on local education. I believe that Vice President and concurrent Education Secretary Sara Duterte will take all these factors into consideration. Instead of becoming a place of terror, fear and uncertainty, the evolving world of education has become more exciting.
There are more fights to win in the name of our schoolchildren. But for now, two years after the pandemic and with our course set toward national recovery, we can sing, as Cat Stevens did: “Morning has broken!”