Metro Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When the lockdown hit Manila back in March, Xhi Tabalan, a fitness coach and mother of two children, was instantly thrown in the deep end. The gym where she worked, Primal Ape CrossFit, closed down; and all the coaches lost their jobs. She struggled to create programs safe for her former clients to do alone at home, as the nature of her job was innately physical — having to guide her clients in person and closely watch every movement and angle of their bodies. Her husband, also a fitness coach, was thrown in the same boat. With no income coming in, the couple urgently scrambled to keep that boat afloat.
“Nagisip na kami to change career, maybe go to the trend of online selling... We thought of applying to Grab Delivery or Lalamove. Lahat ng options inisip namin noon,” Tabalan says over a phone interview.
Then there were the children, ages eight and ten, both still in grade school. Before the pandemic, their education combined would cost up to ₱160,000 per year. For the upcoming school year, Tabalan was told their tuition fee would decrease by 15 percent; yet the final amount was still too much for them, considering their present situation. Between keeping their children in school and surviving, the couple chose the latter — making the difficult decision not to enroll the children in their school this year.
The question about education
Tabalan and her family’s story is one among millions of similar ones. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that almost four million students, coming from both public and private schools, did not enroll for the upcoming academic year due to the COVID-19 crisis — making enrollment rates lower by roughly 17% compared to last year.
As families struggle to juggle survival, safety and their own sanity, advocates have called for an ‘academic freeze’ both in terms of physical and digital learning, particularly for the wellbeing of parents with no income, students with no stable internet connection, and schools that cannot afford the systems and gadgets needed to move online. They also cited a more invisible, though not any less real, ‘mental health pandemic’ spreading alongside the physical one—making it that much more difficult to learn at this time. Though they believe education is a right, these advocates are rallying that “no student should be left behind”.
On August 14, President Rodrigo Duterte signed an order to postpone the opening of classes to October 5, which was initially scheduled to begin on August 24, after some local officials had urged DepEd to delay the reopening of classes until systems could ensure the protection of all teachers distributing educational materials and modules. Schools across the country are now implementing a ‘blended learning’ approach; disseminating information through digital platforms, radio and television broadcasts, and printed self-learning modules. Yet, as local government workers, administrators, teachers and students alike adjust to inevitable issues that may arise in shifting to this new system, from technological glitches to delays in the arrival of teaching tools, many Filipino parents are now forced to play an active role in their children’s education at home. And for working parents already challenged to make ends meet at this time, their burden has only magnified.
Creating new routines
Eventually deciding to stick to fitness, Tabalan taught herself online coaching for the first three months of the pandemic — and to her surprise, discovered that it was a viable business. She found a new clientele in people across the world that preferred exercising at home rather than the gym, and after gaining a steady source of income, she decided it was time to consider putting her children back to school. She and her husband found a homeschooling option, costing ₱20,000 per year — a big, welcome decrease from the ₱80,000 tuition fee per student in her children’s previous school — and as a family, set up a schedule that would loosely resemble a regular school day.
They start their day by exercising for ten minutes in the morning, then singing Lupang Hinirang, followed by saying opening prayers, just like in school. Afterwards, Tabalan makes her children sing "Tong Tong Tong Pakitong-Kitong" to practice their Tagalog diction — after observing that Filipino was one of their weaker subjects. Homeschooling usually ends by lunchtime, and for Tabalan, after lunch is when her online coaching work begins.
At the beginning, her children resisted homeschool. They naturally missed seeing their friends; and it was particularly painful to see her bunso, Malcolm, cry to her one time, begging her to call the parents of his friends. “Pero hindi niya alam yung mga last names ng classmates niya — how could I call their parents? I just had to tell him, ‘When the pandemic is done, you will see them again. You will see them again.’”
Working through patience and prolonged screen times
Tabalan struggled too, particularly with her patience, as both parents and children were adjusting simultaneously to this drastically new setup. It is a struggle that Shaina Morabe, business unit head at a digital marketing agency and single mother of a seven-year old daughter, also shares. Though her daughter’s school has complied with the postponed opening date, her daughter, Annika, still pursues Kumon, a learning program focused on math and reading. Morabe has to regularly check if Annika is completing her sheets, and guide or teach her when she needs to, all while working full-time from home — something she finds both challenging and stressful.
“I think I’ve gotten used to it, but every so often I still lose my cool whenever she asks me something while I am working,” says Morabe.
She observed that her child sometimes commits mistakes in lessons because rather than trying to fully understand the instructions of her worksheets, Annika rushes them so she could go back to doing what she is really interested in: playing with her gadgets. “To be honest, I sometimes hear her say she does not want to go back to school yet.”
Jennifer Dela Torre, administration staff at a real estate company and mother of three children, wrestles too with the screen time of her youngest child, age five. “Nakakalungkot mang aminin, pero dahil sa hindi sila nakakalabas ng bahay, kung kayat abala lamang sila sa panonood ng TV at madalas na pag gamit ng gadgets,” reveals Dela Torre. “Lalo pa at naurong ang pag uumpisa ng klase.”
She tries her best to teach her five-year-old, Elisha, using her old books from school. Sometimes, Elisha draws and colors. Other times, they practice reading or writing her name. But most of the time, Elisha uses TikTok.
Mastering productivity and managing households
To cope both with working and teaching her children simultaneously, Dela Torre has learned to master her time management and productivity, saying that no minute goes wasted. Other parents have also found their own ways of coping, developing small systems that work best for their households. Nic Lazaro, a university professor and administrator and father of a nine-year-old daughter, arranged a working schedule so that he and his wife could take turns looking over his daughter Selena while she is in class, which just began last August 17. They limit her use of Youtube and mobile games to one hour a day, and use the time at home to introduce her to activities like painting, crafts and urban agriculture, which he describes as ‘old school’ — or in other words, activities that occupied children pre-Internet days.
Nonetheless, clinical psychologist Liza Dey, MA acknowledges the double-edged sword of social media, and its potential to provide a means to learn and socialize — both of which are needs and rights of children. But she also says that learning concepts and ideas online provides two-dimensional growth, and may not be as holistic as schools intend it to be. Moreover, she emphasizes that every child is different, and their responses to the quarantine and new modes of learning will be as diverse as they come. “We have to take in consideration the individual child’s characteristics and needs and how those play into the home’s relational and physical environment,” says Dey.
She gives some practical advice to help parents manage both working and guiding their children’s learning at home: set professional boundaries by establishing working corners and hours; clearly state house rules and parameters around gadget use if possible; and communicate positively, nonjudgmentally and empathetically. And, she adds, if they can, parents should also set some time to be alone, and recharge. “Self-care for parents cannot be underestimated, as ‘one cannot pour from an empty cup.’”
Learning passions and one another
Despite the overwhelming challenges parents and children are facing today, Dey has faith that some positive aspects might also emerge, particularly as they spend more time together and discover new things about each other. She says, “Parents would have a chance to observe in which areas their children struggle, are strong in, and where their interests and passions lie. This in-depth understanding of their children can enable parents to be real educational partners with their school.”
True enough, Tabalan shares that today, her children have learned to embrace homeschool, particularly enjoying the way they have the freedom to shape their schedule, and spend more time on the subjects they feel passionate about. Homeschool, according to Tabalan, encourages independent learning — so when her children want to spend more time on math or reading, her son and daughter’s favorite subjects respectively, she lets them enjoy their discoveries. Delighted, she often finds them chatting about their subjects over lunch, or studying past their homeschool hours up until nighttime.
“Kasi Saturday ngayon, tinago ko muna yung books nila; tinago ko yung laptop. That’s the problem right now. I have to tell them, ‘You need to take a break!’” she says, laughing.
Tabalan also feels she now has a deeper connection with her children. What she loves most about her day is the moment right before sleeping, when her children open up to her and tell her stories about their former classmates and teachers. Likewise, she would also reveal to them stories about her past work, along with the difficulties she once had. “That wouldn’t happen before,” she says.
Though the start of the pandemic greeted her profound trial and uncertainty, Tabalan says that today, she feels more hopeful.