Bracing Up

BEN DOMINGO

The academic year that is about to start will see higher education institutions [HEIs] facing new — and possibly daunting — challenges as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic plaguing the country and the world today.

Responding to the situation, the Commission on Higher Education [CHEd] issued advisories to prevent, control and mitigate the spread of the dreaded corona virus in universities and colleges, including the creation of flexible learning environments that will minimize face-to-face contact and the implementation of rolling opening of classes subject to situations on the ground and compliance with minimum health standards.

CHEd likewise instructed its technical panels and committees to prepare interim guidelines for their respective disciplines for academic year 2020-2021, and possibly beyond, that can help HEIs, teachers and students navigate the uncharted waters ahead.

Thus, the Technical Committee for Journalism [TCJ] reviewed the policies, standards and guidelines for Journalism [CMO 41, s. 2017] for possible curricular modifications and gathered feedback from varied sources, including an online consultation with representatives of HEIs offering Journalism courses, to get a better grasp of realities in the field.

The Guidelines

As a result, the TCJ proposed the following –

No changes in the curricula [BA in Journalism, minimum 140 units spanning four years, and B in Journalism, minimum 113 units covering three years] will be made.

However, as a coping measure, HEIs may award the BJournalism degree to BAJournalism students who have earned the minimum requirements for the three-year B program.  For this, CHED is urged to expedite approval of the B in Journalism program for HEIs offering BA in Journalism only. 

HEIs may rearrange the sequence of certain courses in favor of those that will not require students to leave their homes or will minimize in-person interaction between faculty and students, and among students themselves.

HEIs may consider doing away with courses that are over and above the minimum requirement specified in CMO 41, s. 2017, for students to earn BA/B Journalism degrees. 

HEIs are allowed to modify course requirements, accompanied by online learning delivery modes which will enable students to study in the safety of their homes but will still adhere to the principles of outcomes-based education.

HEIs are encouraged to consider a variety and combination of synchronous and asynchronous modes in adopting flexible learning and other alternative modes of delivery, since they are in the best position to determine the most appropriate modes given their available resources and limitations.  HEIs are also advised to use learning management systems (LMS) and other platforms/tools that will work for the greater number but are dissuaded from restricting options to certain LMS and online/social media platforms.

HEIs, in collaboration with host training establishments, are also advised to pursue internship programs/courses that will involve minimal physical presence and emphasize quality and quantity of interns’ outputs instead of the usual ‘minimum number of hours requirement’.

The Challenges 

          The biggest challenges facing schools, teachers and students in the shift to online mode are lack of adequate, appropriate, affordable and dependable equipment and gadgets, and poor connectivity to the internet which should enable them to function effectively and efficiently in the remote teaching-learning mode.

          Teachers, especially those from outside Metro Manila, have expressed their inadequacies technology-wise and apprehension regarding the short time within which they have to prepare lessons, teaching materials and evaluation frames fit for distance learning, in a flexible and blended way, adjusting synchronously or asynchronously, considering their students’ uneven readiness to the new system.  This prompted them to signify their desire for CHEd to incentivize their training in flexible learning knowledge and skills.

          While a couple of universities had the initiative and capability to adapt to the flexible learning mode during the second semester of academic year 2019-2020, many HEIs and their faculty members are waiting for specific guidelines from CHEd before they make appropriate adjustments. However, specific guidelines can result in rigidity and thus run contrary to the spirit of flexibility.

          But the prevailing political atmosphere is seen as the biggest challenge facing journalism educators in adjusting to the so-called new normal, fearing possible curtailment of academic freedom especially with the impending enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Bill.  With the new law, teachers are apprehensive that in their attempt to teach Journalism principles like the Fourth Estate, critical thinking, skepticism, truth-telling, data vetting, watchdog function and adversarial role, they may be tagged as anti-government and even branded as subversives.

          Daunting, indeed, but the challenges are not insurmountable.###

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(NOTE: Photo represents teaching from home and studying from home, which could characterize the “new normal” in the educational system. Photo is from SHUTTERSTOCK)

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Ben Domingo, Jr.

Mr. Domingo is the Chairperson of the Technical Committee for Journalism of the Commission on Higher Education. He is also a member of the Technical Panel for Social Sciences and Communication of CHED . He was the former Vice President of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators. He was a former faculty member in the Department of Communication/Journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman. He was also a retired faculty member in the Development Communication at Central Luzon State University.

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