Philip Cu Unjieng2 copy 245x300 - Learning ‘dis-ability: Our new abnormal (XVII)
Philip Cu Unjieng

Our Big Online Learning Experiment has truly commenced. Several private schools had a head start a month ago, but early last week, the 2020-2021 school year officially begun in earnest. Whether it’s Blended Learning or the other hybrid modalities that exist and are favored, we’re off and running, making do in the best way that we can. What is this best way? The government would have us believe that all is peachy and we’re fully prepared for this grand educational transition; and while I’m staying optimistic and wishing them the best – the students, teachers, and parents, I can’t help but make the following sobering observations”

Glitches on Zoom and Google Meet are a grim reality, given the signal issues that continue to beset this country. In spite of paying more than our Asian neighbors for our service, our average Internet speed is roughly 16 mbps, compared to the 32 mbps that these other countries enjoy. Photos I saw on Tuesday of Monday’s opening of classes, included one of several kids gathered around one device, sitting on a bench by their neighborhood sari-sari store. The children were wearing face masks, but so much for social distancing, as they were crammed like sardines on the ‘banko.’ It’s an unfortunate truth, but the economic disparities of our society become evident during times like these.

One teacher interviewed admitted that beyond the online courses, she would go house-to-house, visiting her 32 students, as she was so unsure if they were truly absorbing the lessons – and she was counting herself lucky that they all lived in an area that’s relatively COVID-free. Privately, I applauded her for her effort and commitment, but I also wondered if her visits weren’t defeating the whole point of the exercise, in terms of health and safety protocols.

Other teachers were patting themselves on the back for going the extra mile, making the sessions interactive, and using their imagination to introduce attention-getting twists to how they conduct their online sessions. One was shown with a gigantic ring light that she had invested in. And honestly, I wanted to comment that if there’ll be any rings in this digital experiment, it’ll be the rings run around the teachers. The kids have been online and digital their whole lives. So many of the teachers are novices on the road to being tech-savvy. For the kids, it’s second nature, and as familiar as the back of their hands. I wonder what some of the kids may be up to while it looks like they’re on their Zoom screens, seemingly paying attention to the lessons.

Let me put it in perspective for you. For those of us 50 and above, do you remember how some 15 years ago (in 2005), we’d be amazed by our then 16 & 17-year-old nephews and nieces, how they’d speed-text with both hands under the table, and without looking at the keypad? We’d think this was hand-no eye coordination of a different order. Well, those very same nephews and nieces are now in their early thirties, and they’re the parents, and it’s their kids who are part of this online experiment. Don’t think for an instant that there isn’t some generational gulf between them and their kids. Everything these thirty-somethings do in terms of tech is probably considered Old School for the young adolescents of today. So, I just quietly smile when the teachers today talk about mastering the new medium.

But don’t get me wrong, as I do applaud the teachers and parents for trying to adapt. A dear friend, Babyruth Chuaunsu, has to lead and coach a team that previously, she would only see via their FB & IG posts. Now that they’ve begun meeting regularly online, it amuses her to observe how some of them are so adept at using filters, photoshop, and green screen apps, when they turn their Video on. There’s time, effort, and money being spent on what has to be categorized as Online Vanity.

The expanded role of parents with this shift to Online Education cannot be stressed enough. They really have to be the “eyes and ears” of the teachers in a manner that they may not be used to. And I’m anticipating the bandwagon of disgruntlement that will come from parents of a certain demeanor. They’ll be griping about how tuition fees haven’t dropped, but their kids are at home; and they’ll be questioning whether the kids are learning anything, or how academic assessments are being accomplished. Come end of this school year, if the experiment has to be prolonged; expect the howl of protests if their children have failed or have less than satisfactory grades. In fact, we may not have to wait till the end of the year, just the first grading period.

The transition will not be an easy one. Some kids will adapt quickly, while others will take more time to adjust. My youngest son, still at university, admitted that it’s been hard. Pre-pandemic, he’d spend hours after school on campus or in coffee shops as study time; so that when at home, that would be a haven or sanctuary. Now, it’s a few steps from bed to his desk and online lessons, and it’s something he’s still not used to.

Parents have to put some faith in the process and be patient. This is the reality, our new Abnormal. Better that their children be struggling but safe at home, than our “biting the bullet” and sending them back to physical classes, and possibly contracting or spreading the virus. The blame game would be downright wild and crazy if we imagine the scenario of parents having sick kids, and their trying to find out who was responsible or the carrier. Parents get feral when it comes to their children, and I shudder to think of accusations and denials flying.

Besides, to be very frank, it’s ironic that the ones preaching “bite the bullet,” and that physical classes should reopen; are the ones most likely who’ll keep their own children at home. Just saying…

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