With our country right smack on the typhoon path, and right within the Pacific Belt of Fire, we are no strangers to natural calamities. With the advent of climate change, natural disasters such as excessive flooding, extreme typhoons, and landslides are becoming more frequent than ever. Man-made calamities such as conflicts and wars are often just as destructive.
Whenever natural or man-made calamities occur, classes are often disrupted. Classrooms are designated as evacuation centers, and there are incidences where school property is damaged as a result. The constant class disruptions has led to more than missing a few days in the total school calendar. In instances when a community and its infrastructure are heavily damaged whether by a strong typhoon, earthquake, or warfare, class disruptions go for weeks or months at end, making schools and teachers cope up by extending their school calendars or starting their lessons all over again. This is on top of low attendance rates due to after-effects of such calamities such as illnesses. It is the students who suffer most, as shown by school drop-outs, low retention of lessons and the like. According to an article by the World Bank (2013) on the impact of climate change in education, reports from organizations like Save the Children and UNICEF, “the cumulative effect of these disturbances on students’ education performance is not well-known, it is certain that interruptions in attendance can only have detrimental consequences for learning outcomes.”
In the Implementing Rules and Regulations of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, the law allows for the development of “programs for learners under difficult circumstances (Section 8.5). In the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the Department of Education (DepEd) allowed student transferees from affected schools to unaffected areas. Meanwhile, an alternative means of learning for students is through module-based learning called the Alternative Learning System (ALS), as a way for students who are not able to attend school regularly. However, there is still a need to improve the design of ALS to address the needs of students in primary and secondary levels whose education has been disrupted by calamities. The IRR also does not specify programs that can be implemented by the government in “difficult circumstances.
It seems that for a country like the Philippines who experiences an average of 18-24 typhoons a year, our educational system is not yet adaptable for climate change, or even man-made calamities. There is still a strong preference for classroom based learning, even if previous experiences have shown that it takes a longer time before schools, students, and teachers recover and hold regular classes. In particular, the assessment of ALS is primarily geared towards assessing the promotion of a student from one level to the next. But this may not be an appropriate measure of learning if the entire educational system in a particular province or region is disrupted, as with the case of Leyte and some parts of Samar after Typhoon Haiyan.
As climate change becomes a glaring reality, with storms becoming more ferocious and flooding a regular occurrence, schools and the learning curriculum should be more adaptable. Psychosocial activities are often incorporated by schools into their lessons during the aftermath of disasters and wars to help school children cope with their experiences. Often this has been through a form of art therapy, wherein students are encouraged to draw or paint their emotions. However there is less information on how schools should tackle alternative assessments in the event of a school interruption/disruption in an event of a disaster. While there is a lot of momentum for DepEd, the schools and the teachers to explore how to measure learning in such adverse conditions, in light of the recent catastrophic events, this also means that designing learning and learning assessments should be more flexible and less traditional. It should also give a particular focus on students’ ability to adapt to their changing environments and experiences.