Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, schools were forced to continue the rest of the school year online or distance learning when the lockdowns were declared.
In the two school year that opened during the pandemic, students were given two choices, whether to attend online class sessions or to answer modules at home without the need to attend online class—the latter recommended for students without internet access and also to assure that the additional burden of online class, which many might not be able to comply, will not be cause for some to get left behind. Both, however, don’t guarantee genuine learning.
EJ is a fourth-year student taking up Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. He was supposed to get his diploma next year, but now he’s a year delayed from graduating.
“I’ve never been more exhausted. This online learning has given me worse fatigue than the heavy traffic I needed to go through before the pandemic,” EJ stated.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños Institute of Statistics revealed students in the Philippines are ready in terms of computer skills but not in terms of learner’s control, according to the Department of Science in Technology.
Learner control was defined as the students’ control to direct his effort to his own learning sequence, pace, flow and instruction. The study also mentioned the decrease in student enrollment last 2020 by 3 million from 27.7 million in public and private schools.
“I didn’t expect to withdraw from any subject. I enrolled because I thought I could but then I wasn’t able to accomplish everything,” EJ pointed out.
Lack of motivation
EJ was happy at first knowing that he will be staying at home which would mean that he can be in control of his time and comfortability. However, that changed when the modules that the university was supposed to send at the start of the semester were received two months later.
“I tried my best to open and answer the modules but because of the delay in the distribution of modules, I started to lose my motivation and I’m not capacitated enough to learn,” EJ said.
“There were parts in the module where we were asked to search something on the internet but I’m not fond of using a computer because it hurts my eyes. Here in the province, where I’m currently staying, there is a frequent loss of electricity. There was this one time when I was assigned to report online and in the middle of reporting our electricity shutdown so I had to go to the seaside where there is a stronger signal. It wasn’t enough to maintain my connection and while I try to participate, I can’t. The waves of the sea and the wind are noisy and I can’t focus. I went back and forth from the seaside to our home hoping that the electricity would come back anytime soon but it didn’t,” EJ narrated.
EJ personally preferred modular learning because of electricity and connectivity issues in their community. However, it didn’t seem to work for students like him.
“I feel like the activities in the given modules are not fit for ’modular’ students. It was only as good as what it was termed because even the modules require activities like interviews—how am I supposed to do that when we are under community lockdown and even if I like to conduct it online, I don’t have the means to do so. The content of the modules is not made for modular learning,” EJ continued.
An online survey conducted by the multisectoral group movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality and Relevant Education (SEQuRE) revealed that 86.7% of modular students said that they “learned less” under the alternative modes of learning compared with the traditional face-to-face set up.
Compliance is not equivalent to learning
EJ said that he tried to catch up even when he received the modules two months late. He was given extensions by the professors but the shift in the system shattered his interest and motivation to study.
“Every time I try to begin answering my modules, I always end up questioning myself—what am I learning? Am I really learning?” he added.
EJ recounted how on the first days of remote learning, he even had bulletin boards to organize his deadlines and requirements. Until a point comes where he cannot even note a thing even if he has set his mind to finish at least one activity per module a day. After one or two activities, he would give up. EJ said that he could understand what was written, but was unable to retain anything.
“I finished five out of nine subjects last semester but I feel like it was only for compliance and not for learning,” he mused.
‘Hoping to attend face-to-face classes’
EJ stated that he is looking forward to going back to university classrooms. He pointed out how online learning restricts open discussions and the feeling of expressing freely. EJ pointed out the difference between traditional learning and the pandemic alternative of distance learning—the former is more effective because of immersion and the latter is not because there are no hand-on activities.
“What made learning interesting before is that every time I use public transportation, I can talk to people like street sweepers and every time I talk to these people, I am reminded of the reason why I am here; I studied not just because I want to have a diploma but because I want to give service to the Filipino people as a future journalist,” EJ said.
“I am holding on to the hopes that soon enough everything will go back to normal and I can finally attend face-to-face classes. I want to graduate, too. I even came to the point where I thought of just copying my classmates’ answers but that would be equivalent to cheating and going to college would be senseless then,” he added.
“Academic integrity is a challenge in remote learning.” Philippine Business for Education (PBEd) Executive Director Love Basillote said.
However, for EJ, this is not the biggest challenge.
The real challenge for him is the struggle to genuinely learn which is currently impossible for him because of the learning set-up’s lack of practical learning.