Back to school

MY grandson and his mom trooped to his school in Loyola last week to have his school uniforms fitted. He just completed his junior high school last term and will start Grade 11 next month when the school opens. He has grown tall, 5’10”, for his age and he could hardly fit into his old school outfit. Moreover, the color of the shirt and trousers for senior high is different from the lower grades. 

My wife and I were supposed to accompany him for the fitting but my physician daughter managed to insert it in her busy schedule. And that’s how my opportunity to relive the school opening routine with their children, which every parent relishes, went puff. I would have loved doing it; instructing the tailor to make it one size bigger since my grandson will definitely outgrow his size before the school year ends. I would have enjoyed eavesdropping on his conversations with his long lost dudes and teachers who treat him as their younger brother and friend. I could have hung around with him in the school canteen where he would meet his school barkada and watch them banter at each other from a separate table. And then close the school visit by dropping by the school chapel for some solemn moments and prayers. That would have been a perfect day for a couple of septuagenarians spending quality time with a beloved grandson.  

So, finally, it’s back to school for more than 27 million students in the elementary and secondary schools all over the country. After two years of modular and online learning, or sometimes blended learning, students will be attending classes face-to-face with their teachers and classmates. The Department of Education under Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio has announced that the F2F classroom instruction will begin on November 2—an auspicious date to restore life in the classroom after the memorial day for the dead. If plans stay on course, as VP Sara remains firm on her decision to resume face-to-face classes, our kids will be physically “Balik Eskuwela” more than two years into the pandemic. 

There’s a mixed reaction from students and parents alike as the return of in-person classes approaches. The usual enthusiasm that greets every school opening is interspersed with excitement and apprehension. Most students could hardly wait for the resumption of face-to-face classes to reunite with classmates and friends. Everyone misses the physical contact and social interaction with their peers and teachers. Teeners will be seeing and meeting their crushes, which the cruel pandemic has deprived them of. Likewise, they will be away from the watchful eyes of their parents who are also working from home and always on the lookout whenever they go astray from their remote classes. And most of all, they will be getting regularly their “baon,” which they forfeited when they stayed home for online classes. 

Now they have the allowance to splurge on french fries and burgers with classmates when they “kita-kits” at their favorite fast food. But resuming onsite classes also comes with some serious concerns. The resurgence of Covid-19 instills fear among our people, particularly those who have suffered a severe illness or death in the family due to the pandemic. 

The lack of transportation and the traffic woes will be a daily battle that school goers will face. For poor families, the school allowance, transportation fare and the cost of school uniforms will be a further drain on their finances. One advantage of distance learning is that it has provided opportunities for some students to engage in part-time jobs. This has not only covered their school expenses, like buying a laptop or a mobile phone, but also augmented the meager household income.  

The return to physical classes poses a great challenge to the school administration. Almost three years of remote learning into the pandemic has left us wondering if our children are getting the acceptable standard of education that they deserve. The public have validly questioned online learning, modular teaching and even blended learning, especially when the poor families could not even equip their children with the necessary gadgets to enable them to join their classes online.

Parents with little education find it difficult to step up into their new role as teachers under remote learning. Thus, the physical absence of a teacher is only compounded by inadequate support from the parents. However, health and safety considerations have justified the distant learning arrangement, although this may no longer hold true with the overall improvement in the management of the pandemic, which allows the opening up of offices and businesses all over the country. Lockdowns have come to an end and travel restrictions have been lifted, but the matter of resuming face-to-face classes is still a cause of concern. The major concerns of those opposing it are the safety of the school children and the inadequacy of resources to provide for safe distancing to strictly enforce the health protocol to prevent the spread of the virus.

Those who favor returning to in-person instruction argue that we cannot further stall opening our classrooms without seriously setting back the academic achievement of our school learners, which suffered during the pandemic lockdowns. And this must be urgently remediated by personally bringing the learners back to the classroom. 

The physical encounter between the teacher and the learners affords closer and better opportunity for interaction. Direct and faster exchange and access of information between the two are instantaneous and richer appreciation of their communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is facilitated. Classroom learning is further reinforced by spontaneous reactions from the other members of the class, which is made easily possible by the face-to-face set up. It leaves little doubt that the quality of teaching has suffered under the remote teaching program. This will eventually result in a significant economic loss to our economy. It will be difficult to quantify the financial losses, which a country will suffer as a result of deteriorating standard of education being provided to our young. Many studies, however, have shown that the damage to a country’s economy will be severe. People with less education will have difficulty in finding a good paying job as they will be ill-equipped to tackle more complex work that commands better financial returns.  

On the micro-level, the return to the classrooms will be a welcome move for our children. Mixing with classmates of their age who share the same interests and experiences will be healthy for our children’s development and well-being. As parents, let’s relieve them of the anxiety in going back to school. Help them recall the joys they had when they were in school and the friends they missed when they were confined at home. You may help your child reconnect and be reaquainted with friends by organizing a home visit or a meeting before the school opens. A group meeting will even be better. And you can arrange a visit to the school one afternoon to refamiliarize your child with the place. And lastly, reorient your child and YOURSELF to the school routine, which has been a part of your life, like getting to bed early, waking up at 5 a.m., taking breakfast at 6 a.m. and finally back to school at 7 in the morning. Parents may not figure much in the equation but we are very much a part of it.