Bernardo M. Villegas
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Philippine Society After the Pandemic (Part 3)

          Blended learning, which usually involves the pupils or students participating in the educational process while staying at home, will also have a permanent impact on the way parents get more deeply involved in the education of their children.  As early as the mid-1970s, I have been involved with an active group of married couples who applied the educational philosophy of St. Josemaria Escriva,  Founder of Opus Dei, who taught that at the level of basic education (especially at the primary school level), the formation should begin with the parents, then the teachers and only as a result will the children be effectively educated.  This makes a lot of sense because if the parents do not support and supplement what their children are learning in school, one cannot expect the teachers to succeed in giving a holistic formation to their pupils, especially in the most important area of character or values education.  The initiative resulted in the establishment of the Parents for Education Foundation (PAREF) which since then has put up more than a dozen schools all over the country in which parents are deeply involved in the establishment and management of kindergartens, grade schools and high schools.  The pandemic has actually obliged many parents all over the country to wittingly or unwittingly adopt the PAREF formula.  Whether they like it or not, parents or other older people in the family have to directly help their children comply with school requirements that are delivered online or in printed modules.   This can contribute to the improvement of the quality of education of the children and, in the case of the lower income households, where some parents have lower educational achievements than what their children are in the process of attaining, this active participation of parents may also improve their literacy and numeracy.  

         Though it would require better time management, this stronger presence of parents in the education of their children is providentially made possible by the fact that the pandemic has resulted in more parents doing their professional work more and more at home.  Even when office workers will be freer to report to their respective offices, another more permanent change that will result from the pandemic is that, with improving internet connections, more workers would opt to spend more of their professional time working at home.  The lockdowns have demonstrated that most white-collar work can be performed as efficiently at home and the saving from  travel time, especially in traffic-infested urban areas, will compensate for the inconveniences of working at home with the constant danger of being distracted by family chores.   I submit that more and more families will be able to develop ways of minimizing the toxic features of working at home.  An immeasurable benefit is spending more time with one’s loved ones within the family.  In general, children will benefit from the increased presence of their parents at home.

         In this regard, I would like to quote some pieces of advice given by Pope Francis to parents concerning the education of their children.  These are taken from the Apostolic Exhortation entitled “On Love in the Family”.  Under the heading “”Towards a Better Education of Children,” Pope Francis gives the following advice:  “Families cannot help but be places of support, guidance and direction, however much they may have to rethink their methods and discover new resources.  Parents need to consider what they want their children to be exposed to, and this necessarily means being concerned about who is providing their entertainment, who is entering their rooms through television and electronic devices, and with whom they are spending their free time.  Only if we devote time to our children speaking of important things with simplicity and concern and finding healthy ways for them to spend their time, will we be able to shield them from harm.  Vigilance is always necessary and neglect is never beneficial.  Parents have to help prepare children and adolescents confront the risk, for example, of aggression, abuse or drug addiction.”  This completely essential role of parents in the education of their children—which is prior to the role of the schools—has been actually facilitated by the increased interaction between parents and their children that has resulted from the introduction of blended learning and working at home.

         Over and above the academic content of the curriculum in which parents can be more active in helping their children as they participate in the various phases of blended learning (online lectures, videos and other audio-visual instruments, printed modules, etc.), there is the even more important aspect of values or character formation in which parents and teachers must be in complete agreement.  Pope Francis suggests the objective of character formation:  “Parents are also responsible for shaping the will of their children, fostering good habits and a natural inclination to goodness.  This entails presenting certain ways of thinking and acting as desirable and worthwhile, as part of a gradual process of growth.  The desire to fit into society, or the habit of foregoing an immediate pleasure for the sake of a better and more orderly life in common, is itself a value that can then inspire openness to greater values.  Moral formation should always take place with active methods and a dialogue that teaches through sensitivity and by using a language children can understand.  It should also take place inductively so that children can learn for themselves the importance of certain values, principles and norms, rather than by imposing these as absolute and unquestionable truths.”

         These post-pandemic scenarios are, of course, based on the assumption that the adverse circumstances brought about by the lockdowns and other limitations to movements of people during the last ten or more months have done much to accelerate the digital transformation of every aspect of daily life, from hearing Mass or attending other religious activities, to conducting commerce and other business transactions, to acquiring new  knowledge and skills, to meeting with relatives and friends, to having access to sports events and other forms of public entertainment, etc.  One can, therefore, assume that our post-pandemic world will force our society to significantly improve the hardware and software related to the so-called Industrial Revolution 4.0.  This will have to begin with the improvement of the infrastructure of our telecom sector.  As accurately described in a recent Webinar organized by the Wallace Business Forum and John Clements,  there will be increased efforts of both the public and private sectors to “build trust in a digital economy.”  The duopoly of Globe Telecom Inc and PLDT Inc. must be broken by the entry of at least one more major player in Dito Telecommunity Corporation.  It will not be only the educational sector that will be increasingly digitalized.  Government and banking services (“chequebooks will be a historical curiosity”) will have to be even more digitalized.  E-commerce will be the rule rather than the exception and the entire industrial sector (manufacturing, construction, public utilities, mining) must all undergo their Industrial Revolution 4.0.  At the software level, as the Wallace Business Forum pointed out, there must be serious efforts to address the security risks of increased digitalization to protect society against hackers and to guarantee data privacy.  Given all these developments that were very visible already during the pandemic, one can predict with accuracy that the digital industry will be the leading sunrise sector and does not even need an L-shape recovery because even in the midst of the pandemic, it was already growing by leaps and bounds.  Just think of how the owners of Zoom have become instant billionaires. (To be continued)