We are All in this Together—Getting through the Educational Paradigm Shift in the Time of a Pandemic

CORRESPONDENCE by AL RYANNE GATCHO—The coronavirus or what the world popularly refers to as COVID-19 has drastically changed my life –how I socialize, how I entertain myself, and of course as a teacher, how I work. To me, COVID-19 is not just a simple respiratory virus that has the capacity to wither someone’s life. The virus itself made me realize that being a teacher entails flexibility as I need to go with the flow of the ever changing aspects of education.

As days go by, my typical day is succumbed with worries, frustrations, and dilemmas on how I can regain my normal life as a teacher before the outbreak, or if not, how I can further survive in my “new normal life.” Life before was full of joy and excitement to me. I always look forward on my days with optimism and I always savor every moment that I spend with my students. Meeting and interacting with my colleagues have been one of my greatest solaces as a teacher. Things had changed a lot since the enhanced community quarantine was declared and was implemented in Metro Manila, my place of work and residence. To ensure that students still learn while they are staying in their homes, schools in the Metro opt to maximize the utilization of high-end technology (desktop, laptop, cellphone, and the like) both for teaching and learning. For some, this is referred to as an alternative mode of education since this goes away on the conventions of how teachers teach their students in the four corners of a physical classroom. I could say that this has become a paradigm shift in the time of COVID-19. Staying in the cyber world most of time to execute my job routines at home has been very easy for me since I am a tech-savvy person. Being born as a millennial, I am confident to say that I am comfortable using technology in my pedagogy. I actually cannot imagine my life without it. However, I cannot fathom how my fellow teachers are doing their very best to cope on such educational revolution especially those came from generations in which there was an absence of these technological advancements. The changes that took place in our education was so abrupt and unexpected that teachers were only thrown in a situation where they are unprepared. Such situation generated a big problem since teachers only relied on their “gut feeling” on how they can integrate technology in teaching their students, more so, it has been an act of compliance just to say that they had done their parts as teachers. Good thing was, schools had realized that what they thought to be as an educational revolution turned out to be an educational turmoil, hence, alternative modes of conducting classes were stopped.

How can we continuously educate the Filipino youths amidst this health crisis? Even though alternative modes of classes were ceased by schools in the country, it becomes apparent that such approaches are the only resolution for now to incessantly educate students without putting them on a risk of getting sick by asking them to go to school every day. In fact, the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) suggested that schools should start looking through on technological platforms as ways to keep the education sector alive amidst our battles against an invisible enemy. However, I personally think that there are issues that need to be addressed should majority of the schools believe on the power of alternative education to successfully educate our students. First, this paradigm shift will foster a virtual environment where teachers and students can only see each other through the screens of their gadgets. Thus, this will definitely promote a no tactile-human interaction between them. Although, there are less interactions in this kind of learning environment, students can become more independent in their studies as they become self-paced in learning and accomplishing their school requirements. Second, as another academic year is fast approaching, schools are pressured to provide seminars and trainings for their teachers so that they will be able to have a grasp of how they can reap the full potentials of alternative classes to the maximum. Nevertheless, one should consider as well that not every teacher can easily become digital immigrants as this may take a while before they can be at par with their students who are digital natives. On the other hand, as teachers, we should also be willing to embrace these changes because we definitely do not want to be alienated by our peers and students who would or were able to fit themselves in the new life. Lastly, the accessibility of these modes should also be a top priority of schools. It may be impossible to find a Filipino nowadays who does not have a social media account. But then again, not all people have access on the Internet. If we really see this educational revolution as an immediate solution to the problem, I hope that schools will really have the impetus and alacrity to invest on upgrading some of their facilities which, I believe will pave on a much better offering of alternative classes.

This paradigm shift in education is happening and it appears that it is inevitable. In fact, with the way I see things, this is really part of my new life now as a teacher and that goes for the others too. The education sector is playing the game of “testing the water.” There is no guarantee that such modes of teaching our students can be effective or not since majority of the schools in the country have only resolved to partake in this paradigm shift only now, well, thanks to COVID-19. Therefore, schools are encouraged to make a stand as soon as possible whether they would have to stick with the customary way of teaching their students (face to face instruction), or it is about time to be more open on the flexible nature that alternative modes of education can offer, and of course, they will have to be firmed on whichever path they choose vis-à-vis ensuring the safety of their learners and their employees. After all, we all think about the welfare of each and everyone of us. To my fellow teachers and to the parents of our students, this is the right time for us to unite by supporting whatever plan the schools have for our children. Let us always remember that no virus can shatter our thirst to persistently search for knowledge. And whatever the future beholds, we are all in this together.