Televisions are sometimes called the idiot box. After the television first became popular in the 1950s, some adults lamented over the intellectual handicap that was sure to befall their children. Who would’ve thought that seventy years later, schools would be using the TV to educate amidst a global pandemic.

As schools shuttered, the Department of Education had to find ways for children all across the Philippines to continue learning. Its answer to poor internet connectivity and low access to tech devices was TV and radio lectures.

GovInsider spoke to Abram Abanil, Director for Information and Communication Technology Service at the Department of Education to learn how the Philippines has enabled remote learning.

By hook or by book

Remote learning often looks like Zoom calls in the living room. But this wasn’t an option for the Philippines, where internet coverage is “quite weak” and many households don’t own computers, according to Abanil.

The Department of Education turned to the television and radio to deliver lessons. Only about 65 per cent of students have access to a smartphone, laptop or desktop computer, but 88 per cent of Philipinos have a TV at home, Abanil shares. “Radios are quite cheap, and a lot of the people who do not have TV actually have radios,” he adds.

The Department has also created e-textbooks that include videos and interactive games. They feature Filipino sign language and audio aids, so students with disabilities can learn from home as well.

Students can download these e-textbooks from a cloud server. “Even if they have no internet, we can do a procedure where people just go around to the communities and transfer these files through USB devices on the students,” says Abanil.

These multimodal resources are based on a basic set of printable learning materials. For students who have no devices at all, schools will download these resources and send the hard copies to their houses.

All learning materials, including their various formats, can be found on a central platform called the DepEd Commons. The Department has zero-rated this platform with telcos, which means that students who don’t have funds for mobile data can access learning resources for free, Abanil explains.

Student-centric curriculum

It can be difficult to keep track of students’ learning progress in a dispersed classroom. The Department’s e-learning platform helps teachers identify struggling students.

Students complete quizzes on the platform as part of the curriculum. Teachers then check their grades to identify the gaps in their understanding. They can also monitor if students have completed their assigned e-homework.

The Department is working towards more student-centric learning. The system will provide students with automatic and immediate feedback on assignments. It could even “give them feedback on what learning resources they should look into that are already available in our platform, so that they could improve their competencies and learn on their own,” says Abanil.

Teacher trainings

The Department is training teachers the same way it is teaching students: with the TV. It first experimented with webinars, and managed to reach 45 per cent of the teaching population, shares Abanil. But it plans to expand its reach.

“Only 47 per cent of teachers have access to the internet in their residences, so we’re now switching our teacher training programs to television so that we can reach more people,” he explains.

Ensuring the quality of this training is equally important. Teachers have to complete tests in the same e-learning platforms that students use to attain their professional certificate.

“Our vision is really to connect all the schools. We want blended learning to happen for all our teachers and students,” says Abanil. The Philippines is using all channels to reinvent the learning experience so that nobody gets left behind.