ABRA (PIA) - - A primary public school head in Abra with the passion to serve and whose sole intention is to find a way to bridge communication learning gaps amidst the pandemic has caught the attention of an international awards body.
SEAMO INNOTECH awarded Mary Hazel B. Ballena, School Principal II of the Bucay North Elementary School as one of the four winners in the search for the South East Asia Innovation Education Awards for her innovative project called TEACH TALK, which uses two-way radio in the delivery of learning instructions and keeping school children remotely connected with their teachers.
Ballena shared that with the suspension of face to face classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the shifting of classroom to home using self-learning modules (SLMs) is something new to parents, students and teachers in the small school community.
Online learning is not possible due to poor internet connectivity and majority of the parents lack financial means to buy support gadgets such as cellphones, tablets or laptops, said Ballena.
Teacher-student engagement was limited due to distance, geographical location and the risk of exposure to COVID-19 virus given the scheduled school visits to barangays they cater to. In reaching some areas, teachers have to cross rivers, hike, hire tricycles or use their personal motorbikes.
Unaccustomed to the new way of learning, parents and learners are bothered and they complained. Most parents are not ready to serve as primary teacher with the SLM.
“Parents are stressed a lot because it is their first time. It’s unusual for them to be assisting their children,” she said.
The school children are not performing well. Ballena said it was one way because the learners just have to read, understand and answer the module.
Every after evaluation of results of learners’ modules, teachers reported parents are the ones answering the modules, “Ma’am, surat ni nanang,” (Ma’am, it is the mother’s handwriting).
“What should we do?” she asked her teachers point-blank.
One day, she saw two kids who happened to be her relatives playing around holding a two-way radio. The use of the gadget was not a common thing for the locals in San Miguel, Bucay. But the father of these kids who is from the uplands uses this as means of communicating and monitoring the family back home, the school head narrated.
“If this is possible then why can’t we adopt this in school,” she thought. She presented the idea to the teachers. Without any reluctance, they pushed for it. But the problem was how to produce the gadgets.
Ballena took the responsibility of asking donations to pool some amount for the gadget without involving the teachers to keep them focused with their teaching task. She reached out to her networks here and abroad and tapped friends, alumni, colleagues, officials, national government organizations, and civic-minded community members.
Through the generosity of kind-hearted people, the school was able to gradually raise substantial amount to complete the purchase of 100 units of heavy duty handheld radios. These were loaned out for student use within the school year. Some parents also decided to buy for their children.
Aside from equipping all the 135 learners from Kindergarten to Grade 6 of the Bucay North Elementary School, teachers also bought out of their pockets their own gadget but were paid back by the school when the budget allowed.
This is how project “Teachers’ Engagement, Action and Commitment in Assisting Learners at Home to Think, Ask, Listen, and Build New Knowledge” or coined as TEACH TALK came into being last school year with the use of two-way radio in the delivery of instructions.
As it was an unconventional way of teaching, the school came up with a plan to serve as guide in carrying out the project. Series of meetings and consultations with teachers as well as parents and other stakeholders in the community were conducted to also look into issues and concerns that may arise.
The Philippine National Police extended technical assistance on the operation of dual band radio without the use of a repeater. It was tested in feeder barangays of the town of Bucay such as Bangcagan, San Miguel, Pagala, Labon, and Siblong. The units have limited coverage of four to six kilometer radius only.
It was initially pilot-tested for a class which later expanded to the whole school. The setting is akin to a remote classroom where there is interaction though they don’t see but hear each other. “There is immediate response if the child wants to ask anything,” she said.
The lessons are shortened to 30 minutes guided by a weekly lesson without sacrificing what needs to be covered, to avoid the units from avoid overheating.
“This is better rather than no explanation at all just to maintain a two-way interaction,” she said adding that it is also being used to assess learner performance.
Zheus Jhumari D. Gayban, a pupil, shares, “My walkie-talkie, I enjoyed learning and got excited to have more interactions with my teachers and classmates.”
A parent, Shiena Marie T. Mayo said, “TEACHTALK lessened our stress and provided us more time with the family.”
Teachers are able to get in touch with their students without visiting them at home with lesser risk on their part.
The problem on poor signal and internet connectivity is addressed which also means savings on the purchase of load, said Ballena.
The gadget also helps in remedial teaching and for parent orientation and meetings.
The overall impact is that it yielded favorable outcomes and improved student performance which is the goal in achieving basic quality education, according to Ballena.
SEAMO INNOTECH awarded Ballena together with the other three winners in a fitting ceremony held December 16, 2021 in Quezon City. As an incentive, they will be granted a study visit to Southeast Asia countries in June 2022 to share their innovations and experiences.
Ballena is chosen as of the four winners in the search for the South East Asia Innovation Education Awards participated by more than 300 entries in Southeast Asia. Three of the winners are Filipinos while the other is an Indonesian.
The SEA Innovation Education Awards recognizes innovative achievements of those in the field of education and made a difference in the lives of the learners and communities despite limited resources and challenges brought about by the pandemic.
Bucay North Elementary School takes pride of its innovation fired by the passion and dedication of a school head to keep learning engaging and productive amidst the pandemic. (JDP/SCA-PIA-CAR, Abra)