Education in a crisis
Dear partner in education,
Greetings from Vibal Group. We hope that you are doing well and that you, your teachers, and students are keeping safe, healthy, and positive throughout this very trying time.
We understand that this is a highly uncertain and difficult period for schools and education, in general. Schools in the Philippines are facing an unprecedented challenge. Closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted the traditional way of learning in classrooms. A vaccine is still months away at best and social distancing measures remain the primary means of slowing the spread of the virus and protecting the public. Thus, periodic and sustained lockdowns and quarantines will continue in some form for the foreseeable future. In this scenario, schools are unlikely to be allowed to physically reopen until August or September and, even then, will be subject to strict health and safety protocols to mitigate the risks of another viral outbreak within the school and the surrounding community.
During the ongoing quarantine, teachers have had no choice but to shift to distance learning or variations thereof. Parents also have had to play a bigger role in facilitating and mediating their child’s learning. However, there seems to be a widespread acceptance that a deep digital divide continues to be pervasive within sectors of society, where access to mobile devices and to stable Internet connectivity varies significantly depending on a child’s household, location, and economic background. Some students can attend online classes; the rest cannot. In the US this has already translated to growing online truancy rates as an increasing number of students can no longer be reached by their teachers.
Teachers also consistently report that, aside from the logistical problems of teaching online due to connectivity issues (theirs and their students’), they also perceive a loss of quality in delivering instruction remotely compared to a face to face setting. Likewise parents generally are not trained to deliver formal education, unless they are educators themselves, and are constrained by other demands on their time, especially if they are working from home or struggling with a loss of income due to the quarantine. School administrators are therefore grappling with several complex challenges all at once:
- How do we keep our organization safe and stable in the near term?
- How do we manage the manifold operational and financial risks in the longer term?
- How do we pivot to a new way of operating our school that will not completely disrupt tried and tested ways of delivering quality education and that will not unduly strain our organizational resources and capabilities?
- How do we build skills and competencies within our organization in an agile fashion in order to adapt to a new normal (that will definitely not be business as usual) during a prolonged pandemic where anything can happen?
- How do we ensure that our learners’ needs are being met according to quality control standards and that our parents will be satisfied with our services?
In this context, schools will not only have to carefully design a plan to keep their learners and organization safe within the context of public health-prescribed protocols but to craft strong business and learning continuity strategies in order to ensure the viability of their operations as a going concern.
While schools face unique challenges in contemplating and selecting between different learning delivery modes and instructional design paradigms on top of other operational issues, critical and primary at this point are whether or not they will be in a secure enough position in the next few months to cross over into and thrive in the so-called “new normal” of education.
In Vibal we call this new normal Education X because it projects us into a completely unpredictable landscape that until last March seemed to be very far off. Before COVID-19, Philippine education was “working,” even if deep systemic reforms were considered necessary to improve learning outcomes. During and after COVID-19, education will inevitably morph into new and unknowable configurations that may transform education as we knew it forever. Indeed education right now is in what might arguably be called a laboratory setting. A lot of decision-making by school leaders will have to be conducted with a mix of controlled planning and pure experimentation.
We have been conducting a daily series of public and invitation-only online webinars in the past four weeks and have been in constant dialogue with different stakeholders from public and private schools regarding their ideas and points of view on how to navigate this landscape. The conclusion seems to be that, at the very least, each school will have to make a conscious decision on their service delivery model at the onset before proceeding to longer-term plans. These service delivery models can be broadly categorized as follows:
1) Adopt a hybrid education approach, which essentially means that the school is equipped to deliver education in whatever means possible and to a wide variety of learners in different circumstances (foremost practitioners will be DepEd and CHED). We might call this the public service delivery model for education. A school will simultaneously be ready to deliver offline and online education, depending on their operational readiness framework. If a school decides to limit the number of students doing physical schooling, they should also have a platform on hand to deliver instruction to students at home.
In a public service delivery model that will accommodate learners will varying levels of online access, a school will have the following requisites:
a) End-to-end online learning platform, which should accommodate virtual classes (synchronous and asynchronous), access to curriculum-mapped learning resources (such as textbooks and supplements), testing, grading, attendance, and learning analytics.
b) Print-based learning, wherein all students will still have access to printed textbooks, class materials, and supplements, to accommodate offline or intermittently online learners.
c) Home-based learning management system (it may be an actual application or a set of protocols) that will enable teachers to monitor learners and guardians at home to ensure that certain tasks and activities are performed at home as if the learner were at school
2) Adopt a market-driven approach to delivering education, in which the school carefully delimits the size and nature of the community it will serve and accordingly tailors and customizes its offerings. We might in turn call this the private utility delivery model for education. First and foremost, a school should conduct a survey of its community and determine how students can be clustered depending on their level of access to the Internet. Based on this data, a school for example might decide to go online only for the next school year; therefore it will limit its enrollment to students who will have the means and the opportunity to embark on purely online learning.
Alternatively, based on this hypothetical survey, school can initially create a mix of clusters: 1) students who will attend school physically while practicing social distancing; 2) students who will do online synchronous schooling while at home and will attend classes remotely alongside those students who are in the classroom.
In a private utility delivery model, schools will have to define what sort of service it will provide to its community:
a) Print-based, which means that the school will deliver the traditional classroom-based curriculum with provision for a home-based learning system in the event of an outbreak
b) Online, which means that all teachers and students should be able to regularly access and interact with the school’s online learning system of choice
c) Online for more advanced levels (for example, Grades 4-10), print for younger (preschool to Grade 3) students. In this scenario, schools will accommodate the adoption of an online learning system and print materials depending on student clusters.
Regardless of the service delivery model that your school chooses, we suggest that the following key considerations be kept in mind when you proceed to designing your continuity framework:
Early in April, Vibal decided that at least 70% of our workforce will continue to be on a work from home (WFH) arrangement indefinitely, regardless of whether or not the government extends or lifts the quarantine, due to the pervasive number of infections in Quezon City where we are based. Vibal has been an early adopter of online enterprise systems to manage daily work so the company was able to migrate to WFH with minimal disruption to its operations. This may not be true of other enterprises. The public could not have adequately prepared for the community outbreak and the succeeding extensions of the quarantine.
However, it is important that an organization has a clearly defined and articulated governance model on how to deal with the pandemic. In Vibal, we started with the mission statement that no employee should get sick. This informs all our policies regarding COVID-19, including the decisions to extend WFH indefinitely, grant additional paid leaves to employees on forced leaves, shuttle or house employees who need to work at our physical offices, and otherwise implement measures recommended by DOH and other government agencies to effect social distancing and minimize risks of transmission.
Schools have to articulate their respective positions regarding their approach to COVID-19, in accordance with government mandate and with their mission statement, to their stakeholders: faculty, staff, learners, parents, and suppliers. They have to address the following key questions:
- If social distancing were to be practiced, how many students should attend physical classes?
- Should physical classes even be held? This would depend on the school’s service delivery model as outlined in the previous section.
- What safety equipment should the school provide to its personnel and require of its students?
- What are the procedures that will be implemented by the school to guarantee a safe learning and teaching environment?
- When does a school shut down? Should it wait for the LGU to declare class suspension upon confirmation of a community outbreak or would it prescribe its own set of protocols for declaring a shutdown?
- What are the school’s HR policies regarding its personnel during shutdowns?
School leaders may have different governance models but keeping their schools operationally ready during a pandemic will have to be inextricably aligned with clearly defined health and safety protocols. Stakeholders should understand the basis for decision-making at any given time regarding the health and safety of learners and school personnel. Parents are especially concerned about their children; teachers and other non-teaching staff are anxious regarding their health and safety while at work. These concerns must be addressed from the onset.
As with any other business, cash flow and preserving liquidity are vital to a school’s continued operations at this time when tuition fees may be delayed, incoming enrollment numbers are uncertain, and school opening will be moved back for at least two to three months. Some schools will have a healthy balance sheet to compensate for any possible loss of income but operating margins will likely remain precarious, especially if operating expenses remain fixed. Cash reserves will not be inexhaustible. Most schools may have to contend with diminishing cash flow and will risk the exodus of key personnel, including teachers, in situations where payroll is deferred until revenue starts coming in again.
In order to mitigate liquidity risks and ensure business continuity, schools should explore alternative sources of income that may entail expanding its business model while leveraging on its existing resources (such as teaching personnel). This may include:
- Opening non-curricular programs, including online summer classes and tutorial programs that may be especially suited for parents and students quarantined together for months. Vibal opened its own summer course program as an experiment and we were surprised at the revenue levels that we generated through social media-only promotion. Schools with entrenched social networks built over the years would doubtless be much more successful.
- Opening online enrollment early to secure upfront enrollment fees and guaranteed enrollees. Opening enrollment at a later date would risk parents changing their minds or actively looking for other options for schooling their child (or children), such as homeschooling or transferring to another school that they may perceive to be more responsive or more attuned to their needs.
- Applying for accreditation as a homeschool provider by DepEd in order to be the provider of choice of parents who will choose to homeschool their children during the pandemic. Schools with a physical presence are eligible to apply as homeschool providers. Rather than risk losing enrollees to other homeschool providers, schools should explore opening homeschooling business units to accommodate anxious parents who would prefer to homeschool.
- Implementing cost-effective digital marketing strategies, especially on social media, to attract new enrollees and to create a loyal parent community. At a time when social distancing is the norm and online-only transactions are highly encouraged, schools should enrich their online presence by setting up a full-service website (offering everything from online enrollment to parent-friendly resources) and designing a social media plan to onboard prospective enrollees or to increase engagement among existing enrollees to foster loyalty and engagement.
- Implementing cost-saving measures, including but not limited to reducing overhead by automating work processes such as time keeping, payroll, accounting, and task reporting and management. Out-of-the box enterprise systems can be licensed by schools for subscription or outright purchase.
Private schools may have an excellent pedagogical infrastructure for delivering quality education but they should be able to continue functioning as a business first and foremost. This means keeping enrollees, maintaining key personnel (especially teaching personnel) on the payroll, and continuing revenue-generating operations despite the existential threat posed by COVID-19.
Schools outside known hot spots should also be conscious of and avoid complacency that the pandemic will not affect their operations. Based on publicly available scientific data, community transmissions can spread slowly and undetected within communities. A viral outbreak may erupt at any given time without warning, leading to sudden quarantines or lockdowns. The current quarantine was implemented toward the end of the fourth quarter and did not significantly impact the academic calendar for most schools. However, the effect of a quarantine in the middle of the upcoming school year will be much more serious if a school is unprepared for disruptions to its business and operations.
The specifics of a learning continuity plan (LCP) will depend on the service delivery model that the school will choose. However, in order to ensure learning continuity the following steps must be implemented, regardless of whether a school chooses a public service delivery model or a private utility delivery model:
1) Curriculum review
Schools must conduct an exhaustive internal review of their curriculum and determine the essential learning competencies and subjects that will be retained or re-allocated. In order to help alleviate possible further financial burden on parents, schools may choose to retain five major subjects on their curriculum for the present school year. Subjects like Values Education can be integrated in the teaching of the remaining five major subjects. Music and Arts may be best taught with Araling Panlipunan while Health and TLE will complement Science teaching. Common themes per week can be identified by an interdisciplinary teaching faculty to serve as focal points for how different subjects will be approached and integrated to ensure harmonization.
2) Teacher training on conducting synchronous learning
Teachers must be trained on conducting synchronous (real-time) online teaching, using different technologies including webinars, live chats, and livestreams. They should understand how to optimize and repurpose these platforms, in combination with other technologies such as slide shares and video playbacks, for effective online teaching to a live class, small group, or 1:1 interaction with a student. They should also gain proficiency in navigating different learning management systems and virtual classroom environments, whether open source or commercial systems.
3) Teacher training on conducting asynchronous learning
In an asynchronous (self-paced) learning environment, students are given course work that they must then pace through and accomplish on their own. Teachers periodically check in with the students to give assessments, review performance tasks, and conduct guided discussions at scheduled times. Asynchronous learning may take place with very basic technologies such as through online chat, where students and their parents are given instructions by the teacher to access certain websites or download approved materials. Preferably, asynchronous learning should take place within a structured environment (for example, a courseware delivery platform) where teacher-selected content--including audio, video, website links, 3D assets--is accessible and sequenced according to the curricular requirements of a class or course.
4) Teacher training on developing instructional materials and assessments for online and/or asynchronous learning
While the rigorous requirements for instructional material preparation should not degrade regardless of the class platform (physical or online), lesson plan and assessment design will vary when teaching and learning are conducted online and/or asynchronously. Teachers must be trained on how to record a class meant for streaming/downloading by their students at a later time. They should also be ready to teach a live class online. Finally, teachers should be repeatedly trained on finding, assessing, and mapping online and interactive content to create engaging educational content that their students can access online or that can be downloaded for offline reading, supplemented by printed reading materials.
5) Parent/guardian readiness to mediate and facilitate formal instruction
Inevitably, parents and guardians of students will be more closely involved in how a child’s learning is mediated and facilitated. Parents and guardians should be trained on the basics of formal education, including curriculum walkthroughs, understanding and differentiating assessment types, and different intervention strategies to improve their child’s learning outcomes. Training programs involving both parents and teachers should also be conducted to document rules of engagement between parents and learners, and parents and teachers, to better support the enterprise of continuing education in the midst of a pandemic.
How Vibal Can Help
Ensure alternative revenue streams; reduce overhead expenses
VSmart Enroll, VSmart School (that can be leveraged for summer school or extra-curricular learning activities through asynchronous learning)
Automation of school processes such as payroll, work management and monitoring, accounting through Vibal’s enterprise systems
Curriculum review, comprehensive training programs for teachers and learners
VSmart Courseware, custom marketing, curriculum, and technology integration support by Vibal
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org should you want to learn more about these solutions.
We hope that this informal policy brief has been of some help to you in terms of contextualizing your thinking and decision-making processes regarding the roadmap for your school and stakeholders. We look forward to engaging in further discussions with you. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com.
Wishing you, your team, and your family the best in these trying times. God bless and stay safe.
Your Vibal Team