Graphics by Renz Palalimpa

Text by Selena Alzate

The sound of chalk gliding against a blackboard is now replaced with mouse clicks and keyboard presses as teachers enter the school year confined to the four corners of a computer screen. Gone is the enthusiasm to see new faces and smiles of children — now it’s just them, the modules to be distributed and checked, and their growing concern over the days ahead of them.

As they’re forced out of the familiarity of the classroom into virtual platforms and modules brought to the students’ homes, teachers face new challenges in their sworn profession — unreliable internet connection, the short deadline for modules and the blurred line between the workplace and their homes. 

As the world celebrated Teachers’ Day last Oct. 5, we see how teachers are faring with the Department of Education’s decision to push through with the academic year. This is all amid a nationwide health crisis and a government that has continuously failed in their pandemic response. 

Teachers prepare for the transition to blended learning

Ricky Espino, a senior high school teacher in Bulacan, recalled that preparations for the new way of learning started early into the nationwide community quarantine. 

“Noong April pa lang, may suggested webinars na para sa mga teachers,” the teacher of over a decade said.

However, there is no denying the struggle for some teachers, especially older ones, in acquainting themselves with the new technology for learning. 

“Marami sa amin ang hindi ganun ‘ka-techy’ sa mga gadgets, pero accommodating naman ang mga nag-assist sa amin na mga head kung paano ito gamitin… dagdag education na rin sa amin kahit basic skills lang,” Ricky added.

Among the biggest obstacles for online learning is the lack of reliable internet connectivity in the country.

“Sometimes frustrating, pero I try my best na i-explain sa bata at magulang kung mayroon man silang inquiries sa school. If possible, nagbibigay kami through media ng learning materials kung saan pwede nila i-access sa time most convenient para sa kanila,”  Ricky shared.

Meanwhile, Jenifer Rivera, a chemistry teacher in senior high school, shared that teachers in their school are assisted through the yearly chalk allowance of P3,000 which can be used for additional expenses. For their connectivity needs, however, they were only promised a P300 assistance, which is not enough for the entire school year. 

“P1200 pataas ang monthly bill. Kapag naman maglo-load lang ang mga kasamahan ko, P200 ang kailangan a week to cover Zoom meetings and other online [work],” she said.

Some schools anticipated the instability and expense of internet connection and opted for module-based learning. Ricky said that upon survey of the students throughout the enrolment period, majority of them preferred module-based learning. 

“Most of us agree na hindi pwedeng laging online classes dahil hindi naman lahat ay financially able for frequent online class,” Ricky added.  

Module-based learning, however, comes with its own challenges. Some students experienced a delay with the delivery, leaving teachers to improvise in order to have something to hand out to their students. 

[Four days before the start of classes] hindi pa dumadating ang 100% ng modules. So we [tried] to make our own version of learning materials just in case hindi agad dumating ang mga module,” Ricky shared

Another hurdle along the way of module-based learning is the lack of time in arranging and composing its contents. An English teacher from a junior high school who refused to be named said that the pace to adapt to the new demands of the curriculum was among the biggest challenges of this academic year. 

“In a span of seven months, kailangan namin i-determine kung ano ang pinaka-kailangan matutunan ng mga estudyante sa kasalukuyang curriculum ng K-12. Hindi lahat ng teachers ay pamilyar sa blended learning, kaya challenge ito,” the teacher said.

Concerns on distance learning

The success of distance learning heavily relies on the students themselves, the teacher noted. “Sila ‘yung kailangang mag-balanse ng oras nila para ma-assure nila na magagawa nila lahat on time. Dapat motivated sila to finish the modules on the given pace.”

Their biggest concern still, Jenifer added, is neither internet connectivity nor the delay of modules, but the quality of education they can give under the circumstances.

Hindi pa nga nakaka-move on ang edukasyon ng Pilipinas sa pagpasok ng K-12 ay may panibagong hamon na naman,” Jenifer shared.

She also recognized the crucial role that parents play in their children’s education. Unlike in a traditional face-to-face setup, teachers now cannot physically assist students struggling with the lessons. 

Helping students understand difficult topics is a task that not all parents are equipped to do, , Jenifer said.“May mga batang pumili ng printed module pero hirap magbasa. Ang mga magulang na aalalay hindi rin gaanong nakakabasa.”

To address this, teachers are doing their best to help not only the students, but also their parents who are also facing difficulties with the current academic setup, Ricky said. 

“Some parents are not available due to their occupation. ‘Yung iba naman, talagang gumagawa ng paraan para maka-attend sa meetings online. Nakita ko si tatay na naka-uniform pang-security guard dahil on-duty siya habang meeting,” he recalled an experience during a parent-teacher meeting online.

A life beyond their jobs

Along with carrying the burden of ensuring the efficiency of this school year, teachers still have to face their responsibilities at home — something that gets even more complicated when the line between home and work gets blurred. 

“Minsan kapag may gawain sa bahay katulad ng pamamalengke, may biglang meeting or document na kailangan i-submit and nadedelay ka,” Ricky said. “Hindi tulad ng nasa school ka, talagang nakafocus ka lang sa work at kapag nasa bahay ay magagawa mo ang family duties without being distracted.” 

Teachers filling the gap left by the government isn’t only a pandemic problem. The current setup has also exposed an already broken educational system that teachers have been holding up despite their meager salary.

Teachers’ coalitions have long clamored  for salary hikes — something that the current president promised for all government workers during his election campaign in 2015. These groups noted that teachers have been living a substandard life amid rising costs and that their profession deserves to be dignified. 

Ricky shared that an increase in their compensation would help improve their performance as teachers. 

“‘Yung dagdag na salary pambili rin ‘yan ng materials such as laptops, printer and projectors, masasabi ko they can really help improve the performance of teachers. Kapag lumalaki rin ang pamilya, lumalaki rin ang needs,” he said.

When asked what they look forward to once the health crisis subsides and learners can attend physical classes, they agree that it is the emotional connection shared with their students. 

“Real challenge ‘yung magsalita ka mag-isa sa harap ng laptop or computer, since mas sanay kami na nagtuturo in front of 40 or more students in a classroom… Mahirap din para sa amin ang maghanap ng tamang sagot sa chat box. Mahirap din naman kung sabay-sabay silang naka-unmute para sumagot,” Jenifer shared.

A large number of teachers have suffered in the decision to pursue the academic year in this setting. According to DepEd, 748 private schools have shut down due to low enrolment, affecting 3,233 teachers and over 40,000 learners. This is while neighboring countries in the Southeast Asian region like Vietnam have resumed face-to-face classes after their government successfully controlled their COVID-19 cases. 

The battle that the challenges of remote learning wages against everyone in the education sector is far from over. It doesn’t end when teachers distribute their last copy of a module or when students submit their final project. 

Until the lack of competent response from the government towards the current health crisis disrupts the lives of the Filipino people, neither teachers nor students will find themselves back within the four walls of the classroom for a long time.

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