Fernando: The school year opens

IT WAS the first time in the country's modern history that the school year opens in October. In the normal education school year setting, the month of October is at the middle of the second quarter of the school year. By this time, it is expected that the learners have already made full adjustment with their social environment such as gaining familiarity on their teachers and forming social groups with their peers. They would now be aware of their first quarter assessments to have an idea of their academic standings. Not this time.

Typically, prior to the opening of the school year, parents along with their children take on the shoppers' lane. Notebooks, pen, papers, and school uniforms are the most in demand items. Divisoria and other school item markets are in full swing. Businesses of school articles are very much alive and their owners wear their biggest smiles. The experience of purchasing their school stuffs bring excitement to the learners even more especially the new ones (the kindergarten and grade 1 pupils and those taking the next educational ladder (Grade 7, Grade 11 students and the college entrants).

Now, parents are checking on gadget stores to see if their budget is enough to get one. Their children are not with them because they are not allowed to leave the house. Everything seems to be new for the learners this school year.

The previous change on the opening of class took place when top universities in Metro Manila decided to adopt the August opening in 2015. Others followed suit. The basic education however stuck to its June class start. The arguments were to align the academic calendar to that of the Asean region and partly due to weather condition where the rainy season usually kicks in June. Though the change brought vital implication, it was not major to disrupt the learning focus of the learners. Until now.

The Department of Education (DepEd) initially declared that the school year will end on June 16, 2021, satisfying the minimum of 200 school days required by law. The department has yet to provide a detail what happens after this school year. Will they adhere to the August opening just like the others or will they make adjustment on the succeeding calendar years so that the commencement can eventually go back to its normal June start? We can only tell once Covid-19 leaves us alone.

This school year is notable not only because of its delayed opening but because of its distance learning approach. This has a lot of implication. First major implication was the implementation of the "no periodic exam" policy. The teachers will base the students' grades solely on the assessments in their modules. DepEd believes that this is necessary to avoid widespread cheating among the students. DepEd also worry that parents and guardians will do the answering. This connotes lack of trust among students and parents but I presumed this decision was based on the stakeholders'' feedback.

The distance learning approach will also eliminate various extracurricular activities. Though these activities eat out classroom hours, they are proven to contribute to the holistic development of the learners. Think about sporting events which will not likely happen this school year. Think about arts competitions and numerous quiz bees that test the competency and competitiveness of the students that will not take place. Extracurricular activities may happen in the form online presentations such as conferences, symposiums, or competitions online but the experience is definitely different.

Students sometimes view schooling as fun. The fun side of it comes when students interacts with the others. They come to develop new relationships. They can hang out with their friends. They can join several school activities where they can present and hone their skills and talents. They want to be with their classmates who are fun to be with. That is mostly their idea of fun and not the thought of learning a lot or that that they will learn new things. In this school year, the distance approach basically removes their idea of fun in learning. It is a huge challenge to DepEd along with its stakeholders to provide fun experiences to the learners.

In a matter of days, the school year will finally open but it will not be evident in the streets. The traffic will likely be the same. The noise of children will not be there. One can only see teachers and school personnel in their uniforms heading towards school. But the students will not be there. Amidst the positivity is also uncertainty. One can only say "good luck."


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