We may have heard of Generation X, Y, and Z, but have we heard of the so-called “Generation C”? Apparently, media outlets such as CNN and the Atlantic have taken up the term to refer to children and adolescents who grew up under Covid-19 pandemic conditions. Some, like Bank of America’s Haim Israel, would be more specific by saying anyone born in 2016 onwards can be considered part of Generation Covid. Then again, while labels change, the experience they have to undergo does not. How different would their lives be compared to the immediately previous generations? One particular aspect that can be examined is their education.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 2020 observed that over 90 percent of nations have implemented some form of remote learning policy. The Philippines is one of them and was arguably one of the last countries in the world to reopen its classrooms for face-to-face classes. Taking this global trend into consideration, Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones may say that blended or distance learning is “not inventing anything new,” but there were definitely changes between teaching in the 1940s and teaching in the 2020s.
For one, technology changes. No longer is the radio the only option for kids to receive instruction. Television programs and online sessions are now available. What probably persisted despite this remarkable technological progress, however, would be the problems children and teens face as traditional education options remain limited.
1. Welcome to the Antisocial Social Club
You may no longer have to travel outside, struggle with the daily commute, or “touch grass,” but sometimes, these logistical benefits can come at a dear psychological cost. One’s interaction and relationship capacities, developed from childhood, are in potential risk. In 2021, UNICEF reported that 1 in 5 young people aged 15 to 24 have experienced depression. Worse, a considerable portion of them choose not to ask for any help, even when mental health treatment has expanded virtually through telehealth and AI therapy. The agency points to uncertainty, loneliness, and grief being among the reasons behind these mental health issues, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic. We might think encouraging words can cut it, but there are likely to be deeper causes beyond what we see from outward appearances. It is never easy to feel motivated, especially if you feel like you are doing things alone and the rewards seem all too distant. Think of how Dream Project PH finds 8 out of 10 Filipinos having no dreams at all.
2. Technical Difficulties
Intermittent power supply. Erratic internet connection. Outdated devices and communication system issues. Lack in digital literacy. These are only samples of the kind of technical problems a typical student may face in the time of pandemic. Investing on newer technologies would not be too affordable either. Suddenly, the devices which you believed were “working good enough” turned ancient and obsolete. Even the cheapest laptops cost more than the minimum monthly wage in the Philippines, and you would still have to find one complying with DepEd specifications. The technological handicap is sufficient to realize that there will be learners left behind, wherein the division between the “fast” and the “slow” has been highlighted. Some may like to romanticize the experience as merely opening your phone or computer on and off every scheduled session without the need of wearing something elegant or taking a bath, but devices do not always run in peak performance for your distance learning purposes. The same probably goes for the physical well-being of the person using them. Eye strain and sleep deprivation are only a few of the possible consequences from having to deal with online classes and distance learning on a regular basis.
3. Improvise, adapt, but not overcome?
As futurist Alvin Toffler would write, “All education springs from some image of the future. If the image of the future held by a society is grossly inaccurate, its education system will betray the youth.” It may not be an across-the-board observation, but some may attest to how the workload increased along with the inevitable shift towards distance learning. The educational system, with which some still follow the industrial model of curriculum-centered standardized learning, has not been reformed enough to match the quickening technological pace. One might dare say what we call “New Normal Education” is in practice more of the same, except they are now being done virtually via distance learning. Net result: disadvantaged students who had to deal with the greater flow of downloaded lessons, and overworked teachers who had to navigate through the existing institutions. Distance learning through digital means has provided a way to further democratize the pedagogic process for the joy of learning and achievement of all. Then again, these developments may have been usually confined in alternative schooling setups, where behaviors, skills, and creativity have the opportunity to be molded and assessed more instantaneously.
4. Unlearning environment
Unless you live in the middle of nowhere, chances are you have been disrupted every once in a while during your learning sessions. May it be a boisterous neighborhood, a local chase, some family conflict, or perhaps a clingy pet, these interruptions make it less conducive for any student to attend classes. “Education is not just something that happens in the head,” Toffler writes, “Education springs from the interplay between the individual and the environment.” There is still some sort of novelty in changing your learning environment from home to school, but if all lessons are handed down to a person at home, the variation narrows. There is little space to learn dealing with issues or crises which may arise outside the home. This variety was lost during the past few years into this pandemic. With these students cut off from the rest of society, it was like we are subtly indicating that the world under “New Normal” conditions can run efficiently without them. How often have you heard adults talking about their much better experience outside when the youth stay in homes, as if they have been young people themselves? Except that, of course, they did not have to undergo studying during a pandemic similar to the severity of Covid-19. Still, more than simply going back to the traditional four walls of a classroom, we have the leverage to explore new areas of engagement and learning environments. Say, augmented or virtual reality as immersive educational experience?
5. Eight days a week
When you think about it, time management may be a misnomer. Time moves forward regardless of what you do. No amount of quantum physics or productivity apps can make time go back or stop for a bit in order to accommodate your priority tasks. In addition, one can only handle so much in multitasking said priorities. Imagine the brain like a computer. There are limits to what the human brain could do effectively regardless of available technologies, and such capacities vary from person to person, yet studies show that multitasking is usually higher under conditions involving online classes and distance learning. This has reinforced a productivity myth that one has to optimize every waking second of our lives, leading to a burnout culture. In turn, surveys show, it has negatively affected more young people than old. That is, people who are just starting out to establish themselves in this world, and therefore, had less security and stability to lean on during this time of crisis. Like any person under duress, they probably had the feeling to grow up faster and graduate sooner to avoid missing out. Except that their idea of “growing up” into the future, especially in this age of information technology, may be quite different from how older people envisioned it.
While no one can predict how tomorrow unfolds, the trials and tribulations our young people face today will likely contribute to how the world will be shaped. It is said that opportunity lies in every crisis, and the pandemic has placed on our plate a turning point. The hope of this little exposition is for education and distance learning reforms to sustain a strategic vision and to take advantage of developing available technologies to build a better future for all.