Published 9 October 2020, The Daily Tribune

As schools currently remain closed in areas placed under community quarantine, educators are turning to online learning and other flexible learning systems to assure the safety of stakeholders during the pandemic. These systems harness technology and other creative methods as an alternative to traditional, classroom-based learning in an effort to adapt to the so-called “new normal.”

As early as 9 December 2014, Republic Act (RA) 10650, otherwise known as the “Open Distance Learning Act,” was signed into law in order to expand and further democratize access to quality tertiary education and technical educational services in the country with the use of open learning services.  Under RA 10650, open distance learning in the Philippines for higher educational institutions (HEIs) and technical-vocational courses have the goal of providing accessible, quality education through the use of open educational resources (OER) and delivery of learning materials via print, audio-visual, electronic/computer and virtual classrooms, and face-to-face sessions.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has directed HEIs to deploy available distance learning, e-learning, and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of residential learning if they have the resources to do so. HEIs shall continue to exercise their judgment in the deployment of available flexible learning and other alternative modes of delivery in lieu of in-campus learning if they have the resources to do so.

However, while online learning presents many benefits, such advantages are limited by access to technology.  In a statement, CHED recognized that only 20 percent of state universities and colleges nationwide are equipped to facilitate online classes amid the coronavirus crisis.  Thus, CHED has clarified that flexible learning does not strictly refer to pure online systems. Flexible learning may involve other methods and learning materials that are not internet dependent, such as take-home activities and learning packets to be submitted upon lifting of the quarantine.

The same guiding principle applies to degree programs requiring internship and student trainings. For instance, for degree programs that require internship and clinical duties, such as medicine, nursing, and allied health programs, appropriate alternative learning platforms may be utilized by HEIs (e.g., electronic and non-electronic learning methods, modules, self-directed learning activities, simulations, case-based scenarios, among others) in exchange for the required contact hours to achieve the course outcomes/program outcomes, including evaluation and assessment based on the HEI’s assessment of its instructional capabilities. For degree programs such as accountancy, engineering, hospitality management, computer studies, industrial technology and other non-health related programs, alternative learning activities such as modules, self-directed learning activities, case studies, assignments or other related activities performed by the student-trainees in the offices/laboratories shall be part of the portfolio to be submitted by the trainees (CHED COVID Advisory No. 6, issued on 13 April 2020).

Other learning institutions including grade schools and high schools are implementing key take-aways from the law and adapting the same to their various needs and capabilities. Furthermore, the Department of Education announced that they are considering the use of radio and television for dissemination of educational materials in recognition of the fact that not all students have access to computer and the internet.

As Nelson Mandela said, “quality is never an accident; it is always the result of intelligent effort.” We must be one with coming up with solutions to address the gap created by the pandemic and overcome obstacles to access to quality education. For after the pandemic is over, our investment in the education of the youth will surely pay off in ensuring the future of this country.

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