Voices Around the Globe: Reflection on the Global Online Meeting on “Teaching in the Era of the Pandemic”

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to share my reflections, observations, and recommendations on the effect of the COVD-19 Pandemic in the Philippines in a global online meeting: “Teaching in the Era of the Pandemic” convened and hosted by Senator and former Education Minister Esteban Bullrich of Argentina and global education leader, Vikas Pota. On my part, I was tasked to share on the context of primary/elementary grade levels since my work as an EdTech leader and department chair in my school focuses on those levels. The following key points were shared to the group:

  • The Philippine basic education sector was not hit as much as the higher education sector because when the lockdown happened in Luzon and other places, most schools were already on the last stretch of the school calendar. The Philippine K-12 systems are still on the June-March/April calendar. A few have moved their calendars but majority is still on the regular timetable. Most schools decided to transition to online learning to enable continuous learning at home. Some decided to drop their last assessment and re-align the grading systems. DepEd has done its part to lessen the sudden changes and disruptions in the routines of students, such as launching DepEd Commons to enable learning at home.
  • For younger students, online learning was challenging because of the following reasons. The students did not have enough digital skills to navigate online learning. Some did not have access to a device or to the Internet. Parents found it hard or difficult to “teach” their kids at home. They were overwhelmed by the tasks given to their children. Some students had parents who work as essential workers and so, they were left on their own at home.
  • Teachers were also overwhelmed. The rapid transition did not give them time to prepare and think about what needs to be done. Top-down scheme of school policies took hold in major decisions. Teacher’s voice was not much heard of because school leaders or administrators needed to make quick decisions.
  • Last, the quality of assessments in online learning was put into question. Assessments that were designed for face-to-face learning were reviewed if they were still doable in and appropriate to an online learning environment. Students now have access to information via the Internet. Will they be able to take tests without consulting the Internet? Are the quizzes or tests still reliable and valid given the situation.

Learnings from the Online Meeting

My fellow speakers, who are also my friends and colleagues at the Global Teacher Prize and Varkey Teacher Ambassadors Community, also shared their own experiences in their own communities and countries: Armand C. Doucet M.S.M. from Canada, Koen Timmers, FRSA from Belgium, Yasodai Selvakumaran from Australia, Nadia Lopez from USA, Marj Brown from South Africa. We also listened to Xueqin Jiang from China, Akshay Saxena from India, and David Edwards, General Secretary of Education International, the global federation of teacher unions, who presented the findings of a global survey of teachers for the first time.

Listening to my fellow speakers and reading through the messages of the participants in the chat box opened my eyes to the reality that this pandemic and how it continues to shake the education systems around the world is one major global issue. It was heart-breaking, overwhelming, and profound. But I also took note of important learnings from the collective experiences and sharing from the meeting:

  • The new normal is not simply about technology or online tools. We have seen how different sectors suddenly embraced technology to ensure continuity of services in commerce, education, and health among others. But for me, the new normal is about flexibility and how each person- whether student, worker, or teacher, can practice the skill of flexibility in shifting to the different modes (face-to-face, online, or blended) of learning or working. That’s the new normal for me-how immediately, comfortable, and confident we can shift our ways of learning, teaching, or working.
  • Education systems should have emergency protocols for learning and teaching that may kick in when national or local emergency like the pandemic happens again. This ensures better transition for all stakeholders, reduces the shock factor, and confidently allow for normalcy to continue.
  • Distance learning as mode of learning should be the priority means of delivering learning in times of emergency. I want to make this clear because the default go-to is online learning. However, an honest admission of the reality of inequitable access to Internet or devices will bring us back to the main question of learning delivery. Distance learning should be considered first and then appropriately contextualized based on the needs and status of students. If there is access for everyone, then do online distance learning. If there are problems to online learning, then why not go with printed-based distance learning. Or, mix them up to provide options for students and parents.
  • Maslow before Blooms. We must ensure that teacher and students are safe and in proper and conducive spaces that allow for teaching and learning to meaningfully happen. We must focus on social emotional learning skills, too. Self regulation and -management are important skills when doing distance learning. Let’s also think of students who are in vulnerable states or may have special needs. How do we make sure that they are not left behind in this conversation?
  • Teachers need support to prepare for these kinds of transitions. Teachers need time to work on modules that are appropriate for remote learning or online learning. Teachers need time to re-design learning experiences and assessments. Teachers need resources and trainings to do all of these. Hence, government and education departments/ministries should ensure that there are policies that support funding and training of teachers.

In the end, this pandemic continues to lead us to deeply re-think education and the purpose of school. It pushes us to ask what matters most right now. To be honest, I still have more questions in my mind. Should we grade students at this point? Should we cancel high-stake exams? Why are we still teaching like the way we were taught decades ago? What essential life lessons are we teaching our students right now? I do not have all the answers yet, but I am thankful that I was given the chance to learn from the experiences of other educators around the world and listen to their raw and sincere voices in this chaotic times. A big shoutout to Senator Esteban Bullrich, Vikas Pota, and all speakers who made the conversation meaningful.