Education experts reaffirmed that blended learning can be effective and can improve education delivery and learning continuity through targeted interventions that use available technology.

This was emphasized at a recent webinar conducted by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) in partnership with the Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA). The virtual event featured two studies on the delivery of education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Despite universal access to cellphones, there are still disparities in internet access at home and quality of home support for learning, especially among different income classes. Online learning mode may not reach most public school students. Therefore, supporting printed and blended learning modes becomes crucial,” PIDS President Aniceto Orbeta said in his presentation.

Orbeta’s study titled “Basic Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: What Do Enrollment by Learning Modality and Household Characteristics Tell Us?” examined the education delivery in the Philippines using enrollment data and household characteristics. It is part of the award-winning PIDS book, The Philippines' Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Learning from Experience and Emerging Stronger to Future Shocks, which recently bagged the 2023 Most Outstanding Book Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology.

Orbeta highlighted the need to improve education by addressing the low uptake of TV and radio-based learning and the disparity in the quality of home support by socioeconomic class. According to him, using learning support aids and increasing interaction through printing modules and cell phones may help target support for poor households.

Webinar discussant and Second Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM 2) Executive Director Karol Mark Yee agreed that technology is “a potential enabler in improving learning outcomes” but reminded to consider “technologies [that] are suitable for different learners and stages of education”.

“Many public school students do not have internet access while technologies like television and cellphones are more accessible. The quality of home support also plays a role in children’s learning, particularly for those with parents who are not present due to overseas work or internal migration. Text messages and phone calls are also powerful tools in enhancing learning, and the right interventions can lead to improved outcomes,” he added.

One of the possible interventions presented at the webinar was mEducation, which uses mobile phones for math instruction. It was first implemented in Botswana by the nonprofit organization Youth Impact, then carried out in five countries, including the Philippines, to test for scalability.

Locally, mEducation was jointly implemented by the Department of Education and IPA.

“The program was motivated by the school closures during the pandemic, which disproportionately affected low-income families without access to alternative sources of instruction,” IPA Philippines Research Manager Rene Marlon Panti explained.

The phone-based education program engaged parents in children’s learning without the need for the internet or special applications. After eight weeks of three-hour sessions, the project results showed “significant” progress, a 15-percentage point improvement in the students’ division skills. Even those who previously struggled in basic mathematical operations like addition and subtraction made substantial progress through targeted instruction.

“We need to have approaches that can work when disruptions happen, and we’re seeing that this phone-based approach works. It can reach people where they are and provide that quality education amid disruptions,” University of Oxford Senior Fellow and Youth Impact Co-Founder Noam Angrist said.

Angrist also highlighted the importance of emergency responses, targeting instruction around technology, and implementing tutoring programs that are cheap, scalable, and engage parents or guardians.

"We need to think about technology as not just the devices but using what people have and making these work,” Angrist added.

Webinar discussant and Department of Education (DepEd) Schools Division of Calapan City Senior Education Program Specialist Cerilo Illaga Jr. shared that the teachers who were initially hesitant to participate in implementing mEducation realized that it helped simplify their work and solve numeracy problems in Grades 3 and 4.

“The teachers found the research fun and worthwhile, and they hope that DepEd will continue providing opportunities for them to be part of similar innovations that address problems in numeracy, literacy, and reading comprehension,” he recalled.

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