VICE President Inday Sara Duterte-Carpio, who holds the Department of Education portfolio, has been resolute about sending pupils and teachers back to the classroom. I can only surmise that it is because she heard reports about the dismal performance of basic education pupils under the system of virtual delivery. But this is just one of those matters that get thrown around in conversation — without the backing of hard evidence.

To say that our basic education pupils have fared badly during the pandemic and to claim that this was due to the method of the delivery of instruction is to make two different assertions needing two different sets of proof. And to establish a causal connection between the two is an even more difficult research venture — considering the many intervening variables that come into play.

When we make plans about resuming classes in the future, the experiences we have had during the pandemic and the familiarity we have acquired with the use of technology and digital platforms should not be set aside in favor of a complete return to the classroom.

The "pandemic years" should have taught us the important lesson that the classroom is not the only locus of instruction. Perhaps it is not even the best. While connectivity issues did arise, they are easier to solve than the costs of transportation, board and lodging, and the risks of physically attending classes.

Let us go face to face where such classes are needed. One can easily imagine that for laboratory-based subjects or skills-based courses, there will be a reasonable need for face-to-face classes, but why should we not profit from all that we learned during the pandemic and make use of the tremendous possibilities digital and virtual delivery offers?

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The complaint that instruction has not been effective digitally is incorrect. First, there is a learning curve. Technology is technology — and it has to be learned. Familiarity is acquired with use. Second, many times, it was the unwillingness of teachers, instructors and professors to transition to digital modes that spawned the problems. Coupled with this was lack of creativity. When I started teaching online, I had a problem about board work. Then I learned to bring in my digital writing pad as "share screen," and that has allowed me to write like I would on a classroom whiteboard or glass board.

My own experience with digital delivery has been fruitful. Because physical travel is not necessary, I have been able to teach in different seminaries throughout the country. And because students of the Graduate School of Law are law practitioners or judges or law professors working throughout the archipelago, meeting them in regular classes has not been a problem.

We have a burgeoning population, therefore we also have a burgeoning school population. If we refuse to shift gears and try new methods of delivery, then we must prepare to continue the virtually endless process of building more school buildings and equipping more classrooms. On the other hand, if we are able to tap in a creative and intelligent manner the possibilities offered by social media and the latest technologies in digital learning, then infrastructure should mean more reliable connectivity and stronger signals reaching the farthest ends of our country.

In colleges of teacher education, where methods of teaching presupposed the classroom, they should now include the methods for the virtual delivery of instruction, and this must include techniques of module preparation that should result in what modules ought to be: self-contained learning kits, not a set of written assignments that the parents accomplish for their children! If the complaint is that many modules were poorly crafted, the blame is clearly not on the system of modules because these have been used to great advantage elsewhere. The challenge is to train our teachers to write better modules. And if poor, if not no connectivity is the issue, then the partnership between the government and the private sector should come into play with the government offering private internet providers with the incentive to extend their services where they are now wanting. This may be a more felicitous way of using government money then giving out "student ayuda" that, I am sure, in most cases will not be spent on studies!


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