FORTY-THREE-YEAR-OLD Concepcion Oli Dayagan says teaching amid the worldwide health pandemic is the greatest challenge in her decades of teaching.
Armed with a donated set of bright blue-green and violet personal protective equipment (PPE), Dayagan together with six fellow educators walk through chayote fields and unpaved walkways to reach their students.
Oli is a teacher-in-charge at the Lubo Elementary School (LES) in Kibungan, Benguet who is among the many who welcomed the start of the school year with scarce attendees at flag ceremony while students are at their homes holding on to printed modules in a bid to keep safe while the virus rages.
There are at least 106 students from Kinder to Grade 6 enrolled for the school year 2020-2021.
Before the start of classes, teachers met with the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) and barangay council and agreed to deliver modules if only to give students a chance at education, believing no child should be left behind.
Oli said the modules were packed at the school and sanitized before distribution at drop off points, mostly sari-sari stores scattered in the community.
Teachers now divide their time from printing modules, answering queries from parents and students and home visits.
Oli said considering the houses are far apart, a decision to conduct classes in an open space was made with students from the different sitios in barangay Lubo clustered into four groups.
Blended learning launched
In a bid to protect students from the virus, the government shifted to blended learning, an approach that involves distance learning—modular printed materials brought to the learners, and or interaction online, TV, and radio-based instruction.
From the statistics generated from the Learner Enrolment Survey Forms, data from the Department of Education in the Cordillera Administrative Region (DepEd-CAR) shows majority of the students in Benguet or 82, 928 learners out of the 86, 230 enrollees from Kinder to Senior High School prefer modular learning, 2,544 students opt for a blend of modules and online, 1,657 go for the use of a module with audio or radio, and 115 prefer purely online learning delivery modality.
Due to the weak internet connectivity, most of the 394 students in Atok National High School Main Campus in barangay Poblacion use self-learning modules.
Principal Mercedes Antonio said five sites in Poblacion serve as a drop off point area for students to get hold of the printed materials equivalent of education produced by a team of 33 teachers who also do the task of printing, checking and once a week, visit students in different sitios.
Aside from utilizing printed modules, learning instructional content materials are saved on USBs and previewed on tablets.
Antonio said the school has 50 tablets and 150 USBs donated or culled from the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses of the school.
“This is the first time we did implement no face to face learning, it is all a first for all of us,” added Antonio explaining it is still different when teachers face their students and have interaction.
In Kabayan, 155 students of Mt. Pulag Elementary School from Kinder to Grade 6 also faced the school year with blended learning.
“On our part as teachers, it is a little bit difficult when learners or parent asks their child to be taught, we have to schedule,” Nena Wais, teacher-in-charge of Mt. Pulag Elementary School said.
In the town, the local government unit said schools are hard to reach because of geographic location and often entails a 2-hour hike.
Coping with the challenges
Benguet teachers continue to adapt to the various challenges for continuous education in the highlands.
Benilda Daytaca, schools division superintendent of DepEd Benguet said the challenges in the first two weeks of distance learning include the capability of parents to continue assisting their children and the teacher’s dilemma that learners at home may not be able to master the lesson were faced.
“The first week may be tolerable but succeeding weeks may need more involvement of teachers in class homes, use of more learning tools such as radio and TV for offline viewing and listening of teachers actually teaching.”
Daytaca cited the cooperation of parents that distance learning happens in this pandemic adding volunteerism spirit of barangay LGU officials, education stakeholders, the involvement of the Philippine National Police, monitoring the Division Office teams who all reached out to the home classrooms.
Some P32 million was committed by LGUs and the provincial local government unit in Benguet for the procurement of photocopy machines while teachers continue to visit homes, meet parents and demonstrate the use of radio and TV, answer queries virtually or through calls and the conduct of neighborhood classes.
As there is uncertainty when the traditional face to face classes will resume, teachers vow to continue facing challenges in the implementation of blended learning declaring education must go on.