The world has been experiencing a prolonged period of uncertainty and turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, it has already affected the lives of the people in more than 200 countries globally. As much as we are facing a global health crisis, we are also living amidst what is potentially one of the greatest threats to education.
In an effort to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, several governments around the world temporarily closed educational institutions. According to the latest data released by UNESCO, more than 1.190 billion or almost 70% of the world’s student population have been affected by said closures.
Indeed, starting the school year late or interrupting it completely disrupts the lives of many children, their parents, and teachers. But a lot can also be done to at least reduce the impact through remote learning strategies.
In the Philippines, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted one of the issues that have not been addressed until now; making education accessible for all. As more schools shift to virtual and distant learning, non-government organizations such as the Pilar Reading Center (PRC) provide interventions so that students from vulnerable areas can sharpen their reading and comprehension skills without leaving their home.
PRC is composed of students and young professionals from Pilar, Sorsogon who regularly volunteers to conduct literacy activities for the benefit of the children and youths of the town of Pilar. Since 2015, PRC has been conducting annual Summer Reading Camp which unfortunately they have to cancel for this year. With the learning and educational gaps brought about by the pandemic, PRC hopes to help their regular learners by providing modular reading activities and partnering with parents. Thus, Project Personalized Activities with Contextualized Experiences (PACE) was conceptualized.
Project PACE is a two-week home-school learning experience with the help of parents or guardians as teachers and facilitators at home. The project includes the use of modular reading activities and worksheets prepared by PRC volunteers to provide a variety of educational exercises in two-weeks to regular PRC learners aged 6 to 12 years old. The modules feature real-life themes and content, as well as activities designed to educate the students about the novel coronavirus outbreak and the consequent community quarantine. The first module tackles the importance of good hygiene and surroundings, while the next one focuses on the impacts of COVID-19 on agriculture and economy.
PRC conducted test runs of the curriculum during which the group showed to parents and guardians the actual modules and asked them for suggestions about how to develop those modules. Parents and guardians are also trained by PRC volunteers to serve as teachers and facilitators at home during Project PACE.
On 27 May 2020, they conducted a house-to-house recognition for students who completed the first program. The PRC volunteers award students and their parents or guardians with food packs and hygiene kits for completing the Project PACE. After the two-week Project PACE for Grade 1-6 learners, another two-week is given to them this time to have hands-on focus to the planting of crops in their homes. The next phase of the project will run from May 28 until June 12, 2020.
Because of the tremendous support given by parents and other community stakeholders, PRC volunteers are now able to prepare and produce another program called #ProjectPACEforToddlers which has now an initial number of twelve (12) toddlers enrolled.
Despite the on-going health crisis, the team of PRC volunteers is still hopeful that their actions provide their students a quality learning experience.
In the time of the enhanced community quarantine, PRC also hopes to provide alternatives to the residents of Barangay Banuyo, Sorsogon on what and how they can spend their time productively while staying at home.
On April 15, 2020, PRC also launched the Borrow Books for Barangay Banuyo (4Bs) Program wherein residents, regardless of age, can avail of the program by selecting books according to the Book Recommendations of the Week posted in their Facebook page or request a title they want that is available on PRC shelves. The 4Bs program hopes to encourage the children to read at the same time helps the parents to engage their children in reading.
Right now, the mission for all educational systems is the same. It is about overcoming the learning crisis that we are already experiencing and responding to the pandemic that we are all facing. The challenge is to reduce the negative impact this pandemic will have on learning and schooling as much as possible, and build on this experience to get back on a path of a faster learning improvement. The education systems must also be thinking of how they can recover stronger amidst this crisis, with a renewed sense of responsibility of all stakeholders and with a better understanding and sense of urgency of the need to close the gap in opportunities and assuring that all children have the same chances for a quality education.
PRC is an initiative of Mr. Lowel Andrian M. Solayao, a 2017 Search for Outstanding Volunteer national awardee, which started out in 2010 as a storytelling time for three (3) children. Under Mr. Solayao’s leadership, PRC’s vision rests on the crucial role of book reading in every children,s cognitive and affective development. For the volunteers, they hope that this vision on early literacy can later blossom into even bigger goals for the children.
(Written by: Tricia Marie Ayala) The author is currently the Program Officer, Volunteerism for Development Communication and Advocacy Program, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.
(Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering in response to COVID-19).