School Blues, School Woes

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DAVAO CITY  — The opening of the school year 2020-2021 in a new normal setting was a success but it also uncovered lapses that showed the Department of Education must rectify errors, especially for students enrolled under the modular distance learning.

Secretary Leonora Briones said more than 23.6 million students have so far enrolled for School Year (SY) 2020-2021.

The data from DepEd shows a decrease in the number of enrollees compared to the school year 2019.  While private schools suffer a big setback as many of their students have transferred to public schools.

On October 5, the school year officially started with a virtual opening while other schools opted to have an offline ceremonial opening with minimal people around.

The school opening has always been the highlight of every school year until the Coronavirus pandemic hit the world and everything changed.

But a couple who are both public school teachers did not miss the tradition, as they held a flag ceremony inside their home with their children and a nephew.

The Carisma family holds a flag ceremony inside their house to symbolize the opening of the school year 2020-2021.-Photo Courtesy: Kenneth Carisma

Kenneth Carisma, principal of Sinawal Elementary School in General Santos City, and his wife Ruby,  teacher 3 in Saavedra Central elementary school opened the school year inside their abode with their children,  Hanz- 10-year-old, Grade 5; Marc-7, grade 2 and Luke-6, grade 1 with their niece classmate  Alexa- 6, grade 1.

Asked why they did the flag ceremony inside their house, Kenneth told  “It is our obligation to teach our kids to be patriotic, kasi yun din ang isa sa mga core values ng DepEd (It is our obligation to teach our kids to be patriotic, it is one of the core values of DepEd).

The learners felt the impact of the pandemic because they are now studying inside their homes and not in the classrooms, but should also understand that being patriotic cannot be sacrificed because of the pandemic.

When asked if they feel the struggle of the learners and the mothers, siblings in co-teaching their children? Kenneth said that like any other parents, they are coping with the new system “Pero, yung sa content, maituro naman ng maayos kasi nga we are teachers (But as regards content, we can teach them well because we are teachers), they cannot also devote 100 percent of their time to the kids because they need to attend to other children who are also home-based schooling.

The Carisma family and their siblings are worth emulating, despite the challenge, they stick together to officially welcome the school year with a formal ceremony inside their house.

But pre-school year activity in  Barangay Darumawang Bucana, in Lala town, Lanao del Norte, is totally different. Elementary school teachers need to cross the island on Saturday, October 3, to distribute the materials for week-one of the self-learning modules (SLM).

They crossed big waves and sea currents just to distribute the modules to parents waiting for them in an area the community built as a learning space. To keep the modules from getting wet, they wrapped it with plastic and secured those in a sealed plastic box as they travelled from one islet to another.

There were 260 learners from kindergarten to grade six who enrolled for the current school year according to the school principal Marvin Geralla.

In the previous school year (SY) 2019-2020, some 267 students were enrolled while seven of them graduated at the end of the SY. Since the island is located in remote area, it was also difficult for a family of a learner to relocate, hence, the decrease in number of enrollees.

Good news, the place is zero-COVID case as of October 3.

The island is inhabited by around 500 families or around 2,000 individuals, with residents living on scattered islets were surrounded by mangrove trees and nipa palms.

Geralla said they have to divide the entire island into seven clusters and put up a makeshift ‘purok learning center’ as a convergence area for the teachers and parents during the distribution and retrieval of the SLM.

In a cluster of 71 learners, residents built a small nipa hut on a seven-by-seven square meter filled upland. Wooden ladders were set up for the teachers to climb, set up their table for the modules, and start the distribution.

“Instead of us going house-to-house, we request the parents to come to the purok learning center to get the modules for their children, because it would take us hours or maybe the whole day to finish it. We have to catch up with the tide,” Geralla said.

Geralla referred to the low and high tides. No boat can travel when it is low tide and they have to wait until it is high tide.

Parents arrived as early as 10:00 o’clock on the morning of Saturday waiting for the teachers to arrive, who brought with them those learning modules for the children.

Some of the teachers took the pump boats, while others were on bancas. They too shared for the cost of gasoline, but for those without much penny to travel, they just hitched a ride.

The daily journey

Teachers are living in the mainland of Lala town.

To get to school daily from Monday to Friday, they have to ride a pump boat and travel for about 30 minutes, passing through creeks with nipa palms on both sides and cruising through the deep ocean.

They pay 300 pesos for the ‘operator’ who also owns the boat in going to school, and another 300 pesos when it is time to get back home in the afternoon.

The 11 teachers, including the principal, could fit in the boat. They all share to cover the 300 pesos operator’s fee.

However, since the new learning system would require them to visit the remote areas of the island to monitor, distribute and retrieve the modules every once-a-week, and, they too have to regularly visit learners whose parents cannot guide because they are unschooled, travel costs would consequently increase or even double it. 

 “Our challenge did not stop there. It was also difficult for us to travel during low tide. What we did is to travel before we were caught with the low tide,” teacher Rose Ann Bracero said.

According to teacher Rose Ann Bracero, for them not to be stranded nor be late for the 8:00 am classes, if low tide sets at 4 o’clock in the morning, they have to leave earlier from the mainland like at 3 o’clock. The same is true when they are set to get back home every after school. 

Unfavorable weather conditions would sometimes bar the teachers from crossing the islets, worse, they stay overnight at the learning center and wait until the weather calms down and their safety is guaranteed.

 Lala Vice Mayor Cesar Yap, Jr. said the local government unit (LGU) is giving 30 thousand pesos while the barangay council is also allocating another five thousand pesos for the purchase of a pump boat.

“This is an immediate solution to one of the problems of our teachers, so they do not need to burden themselves again on spending bigger amounts for daily fare. With the pump boat to be owned by the school, all they need to spend for is the daily honorarium or allowance for the operator, as well as its daily gasoline cost,” Yap said.

Parents’ challenge

Cristina Dela Cruz, the mother of two, had to share 20 pesos with her three other neighbors to buy gasoline for the pump boat of a friend.

Dela Cruz has a kindergarten and grade two children. They usually travel for 45 minutes from their house toward the purok learning center to get the learning modules.

She said, she can manage to teach her kindergarten and grade two children, but the problem she is facing now is about accessing the requirements like a portfolio for the modules to keep a solar radio and a flash disk for the audio lesson materials.

She also has to worry about leaving her children at home each time she needs to get or return the modules every Friday. “My husband, who is a fisherman, would only earn 100 pesos a day because we have limited movement nowadays. But there are also school requirements that we have to buy,” Dela Cruz said.

Rasmila Cosain, the Senior Education Program Specialist on Networking and Social Mobilization of the Department of Education in Lanao del Norte, said it is not compulsory for the parents to buy such a learning medium.

It is however a big help for them because the area has no telecommunication signal, and that makes it difficult to communicate with teachers when they need help in case the modules are incomprehensible.

“If the parents will only depend on the module, it would be hard for them as well. It is still better for them to have the audio or the video lesson since it is hard for learners if they could not hear or see someone acting as teachers teaching the lessons,” Cosain said.

But Geraldine Bolina, mother of four said she would ask her two grade six children to help her teach their two other siblings in grade 2 because she is only able to read and write a little.

“I did not finish my grade 4 education. Then, I cannot focus on guiding my children because I have to go out and collect seashells to sell, so we can buy our food,” Bolina said.

Identified problem

Geralla said these kinds of problem have been identified during their dry-runs, and it was also resolved that children would not be forced to answer the modules if it is hard for them and for the parents.

There are parents who would ask the teachers about the lesson and they are compelled to spend time to teach them.

“Madoble gyud ang trabaho sa mga teachers. Motudlo sa mga ginikanan, motudlo sa mga bata, pero wala man mi mahimo kay mao man among trabaho,” Geralla said.

(Yes it is an additional work for the teachers. They will teach the parents, they will also teach the children but we don’t have choice because it is our job.)

In Barangay BatoBato, San Isidro Davao Oriental, Newsline team met learner Pauleen Clarido, a grade 5  student from Batobato Central Elementary School who just opened her book, about a few minutes after the school year was officially declared as open.

Pauleen narrated that learning inside a classroom and inside a house are two different methods. She said that inside the school, she understands her lesson well because the teacher is just a step away and she can also confer with her classmates whenever she needs it.

Inside their house, though an elder is around to teach her, still, such learning environment is very different “Sa school naa sa akong atubangan si teacher unya mas dali, diri naa si ate—pero lahi gyud (In school my teacher is just near me, here my big sister is around but it is really different).

She missed meeting her friends during the school opening but she is praying “Unta mawala na ang coronavirus para makita na naku akong friends, na-miss na naku—pati si teacher ug ang principal (I miss my friends, my teacher, and our principal).

The complications

During the opening day, social media networks were flooded with bloopers about the printed school materials which the DepEd prepared. From typographic errors to complicated instructional materials, were amongst the many lapses which caused confusion among students.

The DepEd however admitted there were lapses but vowed to make the necessary correction very soon.

The health crisis has triggered many complications not only among learners and teachers but even among people, emotional and psychological issues even cropped up due to anxiety and stress.

A student from general Santos City reportedly committed suicide after the teacher refused to accept his module due to poor internet connection.

Given all these challenges, the government is asking the people for cooperation; the education department is soliciting compassion and understanding not just from families but from the community as a whole.

Problems during school openings never ceased since time immemorial. Hence, with or without Covid-19, in these trying times, patience, as a virtue is put to test, while our sense of understanding and compassion are also much needed to support everyone to at least resolve some school woes.

Be informed