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Old school

School Year 2021 is about to start again in a couple of weeks or months (depending on the school your kids are in) and from where I stand as a parent of two high schoolers and, as a keen observer of how the pandemic education system ala Pilipinas has been, it most certainly looks like we are going to have to endure another round of the non-success that was last year.

One whole school year has passed and an industry or community that is supposed to be learning should’ve learned something or figured it out by now but we cannot really blame them for still being unprepared for the coming year because, if you come to think of it, everyone, from every industry and sector of society has absolutely no idea where this country is going.

We don’t know how and when Covid-19 testing will be fully available. We don’t know how contact tracing, this tool against the coronavirus infections that is supposed to be super helpful is being used by all levels of government. We don’t know when bulk of the vaccines will arrive or when the goal of herd immunity will be achieved, if it is even a goal at this point.

One thing is certain, education is apparently not a priority in this country anymore so the curse of a poorly implemented online or hybrid schooling is here to stay for at least another schoolyear. The Department of Education that is led by a super-senior citizen remains clueless, so schools are basically on their own redux is coming up.

If there is one thing we have learned from 2020, online learning is possible. Unfortunately for the country’s school children, the mediocrity that is the hallmark of the government we chose and its appointed officials means that our brand of online learning only meets the bare minimum standards. That was excusable for 2020 because everyone had no or low expectations as it was expected to be a fluke year. However, if our kids are going to be competitive against the rest of their peers in the planet, this regime of low standards and expectations cannot become a trend that will define an entire batch of Filipino students.

Parents like me are hoping that the country’s educators, both in the public and public sector, have learned from 2020 and while our kids are enjoying the short “summer” break in between school years, they are working overtime, determined and committed to making SY 2021 much better this time around.

The concept of learning has been broken wide open by the pandemic and we had a golden opportunity to upgrade the process by focusing on the digital component of the learning process when the coronavirus struck and made face to face or traditional schooling impossible. Instead of evolving and coming up with a system that leverages the best of both worlds, we simply dumbed down the technology to meet the level of our educational system that seems to still be stuck in the 1950’s.

Lectures were moved online. Nothing ground breaking there. We simply proved that the physical classroom or lecture hall is truly obsolete. Instead of making the school’s best lecturers available to all students who enjoy and learn better because of a particular teacher’s style of lecturing, the old school class limit of 30-40 students still applies. Getting the good teachers who know their subjects best is still a lottery where the members of the “better sections” get a better chance of winning and those who are deemed as lesser get the lesser teachers.

Quizzes and exams are still held the old school way. Despite having Google as an eternal seatmate, kids are still being made to memorize stuff. To make matters worse, the disproportionate obsession with “cheating” has resulted in silly measures to make taking exams more difficult but not necessarily resulting in better education. I know it’s a tough task, but memorization is still king and critical thinking still isn’t on the table.

The funniest thing about online learning is some schools’ focus on “digital” work. Students are being made to become masters at fancy Tiktok or YouTube oriented content creation when a regular essay or report will serve the same purpose. Do educators really see this as a goal of online learning or is it another measure to counter plagiarism that they fear can be so much more easily done with Google and Wikipedia as a seatmate? If you come to think of it, whether the output is a video or an essay, the input remains the same. Making students submit a video from which they read a prepared script that obviously came from a source only makes plagiarism easier because it is now harder to compare work than if it were typewritten.

Our educational system has been in need of an upgrade for decades and the pandemic gave it a golden opportunity to transform for the better. What we have seen over the past year is not a transformation but a series of half-baked and slapdash measures implemented in the hope that the following year would see a return to the old ways that our educators have “perfected.”

Our country’s educators shouldn’t be preparing for another fluke year filled with temporary fixes and more compromises. After the disappointment that was last school year, would it be too much to hope for them to, by now, have a grand and ambitious master plan that envisions the transformation of a broken system? We need them to have such a plan because if they don’t, they’ll just backslide to the old school ways at the first opportunity at “normalcy.”

Old school can be cool for certain things like fashion and music. But if we are talking about education for today and the future, old school is definitely uncool.*

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