Interaction with learners

School won’t be the same

I have a deep feeling that – as painful as it has been for students to switch from face-to-face classes to online learning – it would be just as painful to return to face-to-face classes after nearly two years of learning at distance. I am currently guiding some child clients through this transition as their schools reopened last week. I also help my other clients prepare mentally, as the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) have indicated that physical schools will reopen as early as December.

Most of the kids can’t wait to return to their old school haunts. Some think about the snacks and treats offered by their school cafeteria. Others are already imagining the types of games they would play in the gymnasium and playgrounds. Others, still, yearn to access their library and have a comfortable time in a corner with their favorite book. As they describe the world they left behind before the pandemic, I sit in anxious silence and wonder how to make them understand that what they are returning to will not be quite the same.

For a lot of schools, it seems that students have to stay in their seats, lined with plastic (except in Pasig City, thank you, Mayor Vico!). Depending on their ability to disinfect, some schools have opted for meals to be taken on the same seat to limit travel. We still do not know what school facilities will be available, given the security protocols and alert levels that must be observed. Most students are eager to review and interact with their classmates, but we are not sure what type of interaction is allowed. Are we allowed to chat with our seat mates? Are we allowed to go to someone who brought their BTS photo cards for an informal show and say so? Are we allowed to interact with our school crush who comes from another section? While waiting to be picked up, can we do an impromptu jam in the lobby?

Other students have mixed feelings about the return. A few are downright terrified. We did a great job of keeping them from going out, warning them that a deadly virus would kill them and their loved ones if they did. For almost two years, we trained them to fear being close to others and they saw us condemn those who come out. And now you go to school. Enjoy! Some children feel like they have to jump into a pool when they have already forgotten how to swim.

Many kids are eager to make real-life friends (IRL, as they call it) when most of their social skills were aimed at surviving in the online environment. They worry that they don’t have a ‘turn video off / mute’ button, knowing that they will be seen and heard whether they like it or not. The ride – which I reminded them was something we were used to before the pandemic – now seems very cruel (I think adults will relate to that, as well as the seeming pointlessness of meetings) and yet another adjustment they should Make. Skin and body image issues are back with my teenage clients worried that the filters are no longer there to protect them. Social anxiety, which had a partial reprieve during online learning, has now come back in force to cripple my clients.

The pandemic has reduced the learning environment for our children to a desk and a screen. We came to understand that school is not just about reading textbooks and doing class work, as many students suffered debilitating demotivation when learning was reduced to that. We realize the value of relationships – with teachers and our classmates – to facilitate motivation and learning. We realize that what we see as ancillary is actually essential: the library, playgrounds, gym, gazebos and other rest / relaxation areas. Hopefully we also realize that learners need both structure and non-structure. They need enough structure to help them focus and enough downtime to assimilate what they have learned (as the fast pace of online modules, driven by the pressure of course-based education results touted by DepEd and CHEd, made students feel like bots flow requirements left and right).

I hope we have collected wisdom – instead of fears – during this pandemic. What we shouldn’t be doing is transplanting the distance learning setup into a physical classroom – it’s the worst of both worlds. Instead, we should create a learning environment that facilitates experiences in a safe and fun way. We may not be able to go back to what it was, but we can build something better.

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