Solidarity in the time of COVID-19 -- MS Supplement
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Distance education is a gift

"Stopping classes altogether would be a total waste of time and opportunity."

During World War II, our grandparents faced a formidable enemy who came with guns, bayonets, and bombs. As they fought the enemy, their education, together with their school and university buildings, were left in ruins. They had to wait four years before they can continue their education. They had no choice.

Today, we are facing an equally formidable enemy, albeit invisible. It has no guns or bombs, but it can kill too in vast numbers. But now we don’t have to stop our education while fighting the menace. We have one weapon: distance education.

Republic Act 10650 or the Open Distance Learning Act defines distance education as “a mode of learning in which students and teachers are physically separated from each other. It is a student-centered, guided independent study, making use of well-studied teaching and learning pedagogies to deliver well-designed learning materials in various media.”

Distance education utilizes technology to make learning happen. It could be online learning through the Internet, video and audio lessons using TV and radio, group or individual discussions using chat or text messages, or studying printed modules and packets from the school and submitting the given activities. Distance education is something that we can utilize at this most opportune time. Why not take advantage of it? And why not, really?

First, distance education is 100-percent safe. You are not near any of your classmates or teachers. Distance learning is the perfect complement to social distancing. Only the Universe knows why we are in possession of this tool in our situation right now. And yet some wish to do away with it.

Also, distance learning is way cheaper. All you need to have is an Internet connection plus a smartphone (of course, a laptop is best, but a phone will do). A standard Internet fee of P1,500 per month, which is 50 pesos a day, is a lot less expensive than the P100-P200 daily baon plus transportation fare. Yes, there are many poor students, but for those without computers, DepEd may provide some equipment, or may use traditional mass communication like TV and radio, where students won’t need new equipment at all. Kantar Media’s 2016 survey shows that almost 97 percent of Filipinos watch TV daily, and Pulse Asia’s 2018 poll shows that 51 percent of Metro Manila’s households now own a digital TV box, which is even better for distance delivery.

But really, learning can happen even just by using Facebook Messenger. Facebook and its chat app Messenger can be accessed for a few pesos a day. And many are using it to give instructions, paste readings or links, or hold discussions. Learning can come not only from the best gadgets, but also from the most basic ones if used creatively.

Then there is that mistaken assumption that distance learning is substandard compared to the traditional classroom. Not necessarily so. In fact, various studies and meta-analysis research have shown that online learning is at least as effective as traditional classes, and that high-quality online courses can no longer be considered a mediocre instruction method, even in comprehending traditionally difficult concepts such as those in Physics and the sciences. Of course, good instructor involvement and student diligence have to come into play.

There are no less than 70 open universities all over the world right now, including several in our country, such as the UP Open University and the PUP Open University System, among others. Open universities have open and distance learning as their core modality. In addition, this past decade, millions have enrolled and studied in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) offered by various platforms like Coursera and EdX. What this means is that distance education has made people learn something. And Congress, in the same law above, has confirmed this. It has institutionalized distance education as “an appropriate, efficient and effective system of delivering quality higher and technical educational services in the country.”

Learning is not confined to the four corners of the classroom. Classroom instruction is just one of the many modalities for education that we can use. In our situation right now, distance education is an instrument that we can utilize, or if we decide, something we can just throw away. Furthermore, engaging in distance education during this pandemic is good for students’ mental, social, and psychological health as they will be communicating with their teachers as well as their friends and classmates during collaborative online activities.

As a species that has pursued growth and development throughout our history, we should not hesitate to engage in distance education. Stopping classes altogether would be a total waste of time and opportunity. Up to now, we don’t know when the vaccine will arrive. It is best to do something, to learn, to grow, while this is ongoing, in the way that we can, in the littlest thing that we can do.

If this pandemic happened two decades ago, we wouldn’t have the chance to continue classes. The challenges are here today, but first, we need to accept this gift. Use it or lose it. And in a country that sits in the center of volcanos and typhoons and hazards of all kinds, it is best that we familiarize ourselves and equip ourselves with the technologies for distance education, so that whatever happens, we will have a useful modality that can exist side by side with the traditional classroom during ordinary days, but which we can use exclusively during challenging times.

Mr. Tiamson is an educator and writer.

Topics: Everyman , Republic Act 10650 , Open Distance Learning Act
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