From Where We Sit

What will schools look like under the ‘new normal’?

More than 1.5 billion students and young learners globally are affected by school and university closures due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic. Schools have remained closed for weeks, and no one knows for certain when we will come out of the lockdowns, as the pandemic shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

In the Philippines, the Covid-19 crisis has affected about 27 million learners, 1 million teachers and non-teaching staff, as well as the families of learners.

The Department of Education (DepEd) recently announced that classes for the next school year would begin on Aug. 24, 2020. Classes may start earlier, but there will be no physical return to school. DepEd is offering schools a menu of alternative learning methods that includes online learning and offline methods, such as take-home readings and activities.

The disruption caused by Covid-19 has forced the adoption of online learning in schools. Teacher training is a major consideration that would require schools to readjust their budget allocation in order to respond to this emerging need. Online teaching involves a lot of preparation, and teachers now find themselves having to use tools they are not familiar with. For sure, there will be adjustments.

Over the past decade, online education has emerged as an innovative teaching and learning method. Learners of all ages use this method, from working adults who want to continue their studies while on the job to parents enrolling their kids to help them learn new things. The same is true for those who cannot continue their studies due to medical conditions or disabilities. Today, such learners can continue their education with a range of distance learning options.

Countless research devoted to the benefits of online education suggests that online learning is as good as face-to-face classroom learning. The advantages of online learning include flexibility and self-paced learning, lower costs, improved virtual communication and collaboration, better time management, refined critical thinking skills and new technical skills.

So what will our schools look like beyond Covid-19?

With the new school year being postponed—calling students to stay home and encouraging schools to use online learning platforms—an alternative way of teaching and learning has emerged.

Online education as an imperative for institutions

Online teaching and learning is going to be more regular and teachers must be prepared to teach online. Online learning is not new. What is new is that schools are embracing it as vital to how the next generation of learners are taught.

In a world where disasters and disruptions are increasingly becoming the norm, it is imperative for schools and universities to train teachers on how to teach online and to encourage them to devote their time to teaching online at least as a drill mechanism to prepare for unexpected events. It is not just about the pandemic we are experiencing right now. Other events, such as earthquakes, floods and other calamities will compel teachers and students to stay home to teach or study online.

We will see more classes being conducted through web video conferencing. Some schools and universities will use a learning management system (LMS), such as Google Classroom, Moodle, Blackboard Learn and Canvas, to enable students to complete assignments, deliver presentations, take assessments and receive immediate feedback from their teachers online.

Use of open textbooks

With the Covid-19 crisis forcing schools into online instruction, we will see a rise in the adoption of open educational resources (OER) as an inexpensive alternative to traditional textbooks. Over the years, many educational materials have been developed and made freely available for teachers and students to use, adapt, share and reuse. Low-cost (and even free) quality educational content is ideal for online instruction; it is in a digital format and it can be embedded into a school’s LMS.

Many sites offer a wide range of content and tools to help implement OER for just about any course, such as MIT Open Courseware, OER Commons, Lumen Learning, Merlot II and OpenStax CNX. Recently, DepEd launched its own open online learning platform, DepEd Commons, to support public school learners and expanded its features to cater to private school students.

Blended learning and flipped classrooms

As governments ease out of lockdowns, we will begin to see schools adopting the blended learning approach. Those who are necessitated to move to online learning during the Covid-19 crisis will start to realize the full benefits of virtual education as teachers and students return to their physical classrooms. The conscious and careful blending of face-to-face instruction and online methods can draw the best of both worlds and create the best teaching and learning experience.

Some schools will also start combining blended learning with a flipped classroom approach. In a flipped classroom, the typical classroom lecture and homework elements are reversed. At home, the students watch short video lectures and other asynchronous content, while activities traditionally assigned as homework are now done in-class with the teacher answering student questions and helping them apply course concepts during class time.

Bridging the digital divide with offline learning methods
The biggest challenge for schools transitioning to online learning is the widening inequality of access to and usage of information and communications technology (ICT).
Advancements in information technology and the internet are, in fact, deepening the divide between the educational haves and have-nots. Many Filipino households cannot afford a stable internet connection. Even those with access to the internet experience some infrastructural gaps, including the discrepancy in internet speeds in different regions.

To bridge this digital divide, efforts must be devoted to developing long-distance and offline multimedia teaching modes and learning systems that can allow users to study courses using their personal computers, as well as allow faculty to track and record their learning. We will also see a mix of live broadcasts, prerecorded (on-demand) content and educational programs on broadcast media.

Online education at the core of every school’s strategic plan

Online education will be a priority not only as a potential source of revenue, but also acknowledged as core to every school’s strategic plan for institutional resilience and academic continuity. For school leaders to manage efficiently the transition to online and blended learning environments, most schools will invest in learning design by hiring instructional designers and educational technology consultants. Other schools lacking in finances will find it more viable to outsource some of its educational resources, capabilities and processes. Some schools will depend on online learning providers to run their online programs.

Despite technological advancements, the difficulties and limitations posed by technology are challenges that every teacher faces when using technology inside the classroom. However, this should not prevent or discourage teachers from using tech. Every teacher has to try. Otherwise, teachers will lose their relevance in this digital age.

The Covid-19 crisis presents an opportunity for the education sector to come together, forge connections and share what works. We may have not seen this before the crisis, but we are missing a greater opportunity if we do not do this now.

Jess Obana is a senior managing consultant in the advisory services division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing firms in the Philippines, with 23 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @GrantThorntonPH, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to jess.obana@ph.gt.com or pagrantthornton@ph.gt.com. For more information, visit www.grantthornton.com.ph.

 

As published in The Manila Times, dated 13 May 2020