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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Editorial: Caveat for digital learning

IN THE Information Age, schools face the challenge of adopting the digital media to promote learning and equip students with the digital literacy that will make them not just learned but also responsible Netizens of the world.

Educators must also balance this enthusiasm to embrace new media with a deeper appreciation of how the Age of Information contains both opportunities and challenges for learning.

E-learning perks, perils

In time for the 150th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal, the Laguna Provincial Government and the Department of Education (DepEd) launched the e-Rizal project in 2011. Laguna is the national hero’s home province.

The project distributed 900 tablets, with 18 public high schools receiving 50 tablets each, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer last June 30. The total cost of P591,090 covered the purchase of the gadgets and training of teachers on information and communications technology (ICT).

Each tablet stored the life story of Rizal, quizzes, e-books, courses on Science, Math and English, and practical modules, such as dressmaking.

Students found the tablet’s contents “pretty interesting” and had “fun” answering the quizzes, according to the same report. Despite the favorable reception, the tablets were far from optimized. A computer teacher said that the 50 units allocated per school were too few to be shared by hundreds of students. Some tablets were lost or locked due to forgotten passwords. Personal images and videos had to be deleted. The operating system could not be updated.

Many teachers also resisted the use of the tablets, preferring traditional instruction.

Politics finally sealed the fate of the e-Rizal project. A pet project of then Laguna governor Jeorge Ejercito, whose nickname “ER” inspired the project name, the e-Rizal project received a “lukewarm” reaction from Ramil Hernandez, who beat Ejercito in the gubernatorial election last May.

Into the flow

The unanticipated outcomes of the e-Rizal project demonstrate the tragedy of learning tools that end up “in storage” and not in the hands of learners.

Traditional books, which are also as rare as tablets in many public schools, often remain pristine and preserved in a room kept off-limits to students and solely used as a “showroom library” and setting for school feasts and socials.

The mentality that widens the chasm between learning and pseudo-learning must be changed, and often, the students’ ignorance is not the biggest hurdle but that of administrators and teachers. Learning facilities and resources, especially if these are new and expensive, may only be used after extreme requirements are met because an administrator is apprehensive that a book may be vandalized or a gadget stolen.

Users’ guidelines can be created and followed. However, the most important prerequisite to the optimized use of learning tools, whether these be traditional books or tablets, is convincing teachers to use the tools to learn and improve their instruction. Only when they become users can teachers also be effective and convincing disciples promoting the use of such learning tools.

While the DepEd must partner with local government units, it must also explore other stake-holders, such as foundations, civic organizations, nongovernment organizations, business groups and philanthropists, to become its partners in initiatives, specially for enhancing education through technology.

Aside from lacking a political agenda, private-sector stakeholders can also include a grant to cover maintenance and sustainability of technology. Digital learning requires updating and continuing learning. ICT trainings must not only be planned for the piloting but also at regular intervals during the full implementation.

Instruction must not only be limited to sessions on how to operate a gadget. Trainings should include the way technology affects how people think, communicate, and relate. A hallmark of excellent teachers is not necessarily the mastery of technology but the ability to use the resources at hand to enable their students to enter “into the flow”: when they lose track of time and effort in the pursuit of discovery and insight.
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