Realities of modular learning in the uplands: Keeping hope alive amid the pandemic

Jenny Lynn Lee

The onset of Covid-19 in the country in early 2020 caught many schools unprepared for the shift to distance learning.  Given the limited resources of an upland indigenous school, APC was at first not certain whether it could continue to operate in SY 2020-2021.  Still, we thought that discontinuing learning for youth in the margins would be catastrophic and would expose these youth to various risks and vulnerabilities. Thus, APC decided to try its hand on modular distance learning, an approach that requires the distribution of weekly modules for students’ independent home study.

This was quite difficult on the part of the teachers, as in the grade school at least, we had to translate Math and Science learning materials originally written in English into the mother tongue, for them to be comprehensible to students. Teachers in the other subjects that were previously taught mainly through lectures also had to scramble to prepare appropriate learning materials that could be reproduced for students. Reproduction had to be done down in the city and so it was a rush every week to be able to finish the modules on time.

Students, of course, were not prepared for any semblance of independent study, long used to listening to lectures and being driven by teacher-led classes. The assumption was that parents would guide students at home, but this proved to be impossible in our context. Many parents have low educational attainment and have little capacity to guide their children at lessons, or to organize study areas and regular study schedules, or even just to herd the children into some semblance of daily discipline. This makes the parents frustrated. In some cases, parents and older siblings resort to answering the modules on their own instead of allowing the children themselves to engage with the modules.

Given that no learning at home was happening—as even older students had a tendency to share answers among themselves and also had great difficulty in comprehending learning materials in English—APC had to come up with another way. Open-air study zones around the school and in the village were organized where students could come together under the supervision of a teacher to answer their modules together. They could also seek help from teachers on things they could not understand – which were many.

Many students could not adjust to this new style of learning – as it requires much reading and a lot of writing. In SY 2020-21, the number of students who completed the school year was down by 90 compared to SY 2019-20. Some students entered the labor force, while many others simply could not persevere and decided they would just try again once face-to-face classes resume.

For those who persevered, though, there were some rewards: the development of their reading skills and the sense of accomplishment that they were capable of learning on their own, without wholly depending on the teacher. Still, the situation is not optimal, as students for the most part prefer to rush through answering their modules, eager to finish their school work so they could move on to other things.  Thus only a few hours each day is spent on learning, although the study period is much more focused.

There is also the loss of extra-curricular activities, learning in the arts, dance, and music, and formative activities that involve meditation, reflection, and peer sharing.  These are essential parts of a well-rounded education that continue to be impossible with the prohibition on gatherings.

But the most important part, I think, is keeping hope alive in the midst of these difficulties.  With the situation in the Philippines not improving, and with health risks proving to be a much greater concern now than in the past year, it is so easy to succumb to helplessness.  But challenges draw forth our strength and our creativity, leading us to rely on each other and to look for ways. So long as we don’t give up but just walk on, we find ourselves with paths opening and help coming from unexpected places. And we realize that we can overcome, maybe not fully, but certainly never in defeat to our circumstances.

Jenny Lynn Lee is the School Manager of the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center.

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