Colossal challenges

Colossal challenges

With the postponement of classes in public high schools for Academic Year 2020-2021 from August 24 to October 5, we see enormous challenges the Department of Education faces following an understandable hammering with the maiden broadcast of its television episodes for distance learning. A quick look at one of the many complaints, for instance, suggests DepEd has a lot to revise between now and the week before the opening of classes, just over 40 days.

And given the pandemic that we are in, we would be thoroughly impressed if DepEd can beat the deadline in correcting errors — and mostly on grammar, for crying out loud — which are rather dramatic in their published versions.

One such blooper, which did not escape the eyes of those who anticipated and watched the first broadcast, was that reference to Taal Volcano, a large caldera filled by Taal Lake in Batangas, the second most active volcano after Mayon in Albay, with 34 recorded historical eruptions, all concentrated on Volcano Island near the middle of Taal Lake.

The social media post on the boner showed a multiple-choice question for Grade 8 English on the meaning of the word “picturesque.”

We quote for precision a comment which was read by millions on social media platforms: “One short sentence with too many errors from the DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. 1. Poor construction. 2. Awful grammar. 3. Taal is a VOLCANO, not a mountain. 4. Taal volcano can hardly be described as majestic based on visible portions. 5. Picturesque is charming?”

The line in question is: Tagaytay City is known for wonderful picturesque of the majestic Mount Taal. What does picturesque mean?

At the bottom are four boxes where the student is supposed to choose the correct answer: A) charming; B) running; C) ruined; D) perhaps.

While charming, as an adjective, may be close to picturesque, we agree with observers and netizens there was something wrong, among others, in the construction of the sentence.

That is just one of those seen and heard by parents and teachers alike who were ill at ease over the modules prepared by DepEd for distance learning.

Even the name of the country was disgracefully misspelled.

We give it to DepEd that, after being cut down by education observers, it immediately pledged to improve the television broadcast episodes.

Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua had said in a statement, seen as a coping mechanism, that the test run “was more focused on the technical aspect of the broadcasting, from recording, file conversion, ingestion, mapping, to actual broadcasting. Public comments that it had errors with accuracy as well as grammar and typography were valid.”

We are rather uneasy what timeline DepEd has between now and the pre-opening week, given the General Community Quarantine protocols, to revise the episodes and come up with an irreproachable fragment of the distance learning module.

DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones earlier announced President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to postpone the opening of classes, and that no face-to-face classes would be conducted when schools reopen on Oct. 5.

Briones stressed that class sessions would not be limited to online sessions alone, saying this “is because we have adopted a policy of blended learning wherein various modalities are being recommended depending on the situation at the level of the region and the school.”

We understand the postponement covers both public and private elementary and high schools, except those affiliated or attached to colleges and universities.

Private schools that have started classes can also proceed with the school year, with Briones saying it would be difficult to stop them especially since the learning process has begun.

But Briones was correct in nudging them to follow policies and health protocols, including the restrictions on physical classes and the additional rules in areas under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine.

The stand alone private schools — which are also under DepEd’s umbrella insofar as basic education is concerned — that have yet to start their school year must comply with the regulations of the department.

DepEd owes it to itself, the parents and the students to give priority to the printing and delivery of modules, upskilling of teachers and of the staff in the Central Office as well as others involved in the education process.

It is heartwarming that DepEd, reported to have logistical constraints, has successfully conducted simulations in more than 500 public schools nationwide, with Briones saying the simulations had resulted in functional feedback on where they can make the needed breakthrough.

We hope the more than 40 days additional period, as from today, will also give DepEd the necessary respite to ensure the preparedness for the opening of classes and the safety of all stakeholders.

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers summed it up well when it said the postponement of the opening of classes would be for nothing if the requisites for the delivery of safe, accessible and quality education would not be met.

 Its recommendations have included providing for all distance learning modalities; filling in the shortages on facilities, personnel and equipment; and installing comprehensive health protection mechanisms.

The Teachers Dignity Coalition itself has reiterated its call for the DepEd to respond to the needs of stakeholders, like ensuring the health and safety of teachers and providing them with laptops, internet and other equipment needed for distance learning.

Figures presented during the Senate hearing have suggested only 82 out of 214 school division offices have completed printing more than 50 percent of the modules needed for the first quarter of the school year.

The remaining 132 division offices have printed less than half of the first quarter requirement.

With face-to-face classes suspended for the rest of the year, there has been a recommendation to re-align the P29.5-billion school rehabilitation fund to buy gadgets and address the health concerns of teachers.

We understand P700 million has been set aside for training teachers, who would be conducting classes mostly online because of the pandemic.

The DepEd must also address the edginess of teachers regarding their safety, not to mention the need for mass testing, allocation of funds for check-ups and provision of personal protective equipment for those who must conduct physical activities like distribution of modules.

DepEd needs all the support as it faces these overpowering challenges, but it must show the stakeholders’ operational directions for the new normal in distance learning.

Featured photo: DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones

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