IT HAS always been my desire to acquire a master's degree. With my work schedule however, I cannot attend week days or Saturday classes. Finally in 2012, I thank the Lord that I accomplished my dream of finishing a graduate course. Thanks to distance learning at the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU).

The UPOU is the fifth campus of the University of the Philippines system. It was established on February 23, 1995 to answer the challenge of providing quality higher education to a growing population distributed in over 7,000 islands through open and distance learning.

Instead of a Masters in Business Administration degree which was my initial preference, I chose to take up the Master of Development Communication program because it is in line with my work and environmental advocacy. I also want to acquire formal training in communications. I have no background in this field though I have been in radio broadcasting and newspaper writing for many years.

At UPOU, learning is by way of textbooks, assignments and projects which are submitted online or through couriers. Topics for discussion are posted online and a time frame is given for answers and reactions. For our exams, we go to the nearest U.P. campus or testing centers established all over the Philippines. Abroad, students go to Philippine embassies for their written exams. Sometimes, exams are done live, complete with videocam so that the professor can monitor the examinee.

Learning through distance education depends on the student. It takes a lot of discipline and honesty. You can actually cheat. Professors have no way of knowing whether it was you or someone else who did the projects, assignments and discussion comments. It all boils down to the student's objective or motivation. Whether they are just after the degree, or really want to learn.

I am sharing my experience in online education because this will the norm for the next few months, or until after a vaccine against the Covid-19 is available. Unlike in UPOU however, the distance or online learning to be implemented by DepEd and Ched was not carefully planned and prepared for. It was forced upon by the pandemic.

There are many challenges to hurdle. Not everyone have computers, laptops, tablets or smartphones. Fast and reliable internet access is also a must. With all the complaints that I see in social media about slow or no connection at all, this will be a problem. Without connectivity, gadgets are useless.

Next question is whether teachers can effectively teach online. Can students absorb virtual instructions? Are parents or guardians capable and available to guide their children? If both parents are working, who will guide the student?

Classes will start in less than a month. I hope all these issues were addressed.