In my children’s school, there is no cafeteria, gym, or football field. There are, however, shelves and shelves of books, open space to play patintero in, and lots of trees.
It took my husband and me, products of traditional schools from start to finish, a while to adjust to this non-conformist approach to education, the blended learning method. (On the other hand, it took our kids about a day.) But I was drawn to this method precisely because it was different from how we thought kids were supposed to be taught.
First, a backgrounder: Although the school my kids go to is called Blended Learning Center Manila (BLC), the school doesn’t subscribe to the usual definition of blended learning, which is a mix of face-to-face and online instruction. At BLC, they “veer away from the use of [online instruction],” says Zeena A. Pañares, BLC’s head teacher. Instead, they focus “on blending character, values, and life experiences into the academic curriculum…We’re evolving into a different approach towards education.”
Yes, it’s as un-traditional as teaching methods go.
No one is taught to be afraid to say or ask the wrong thing.
For one thing, the classes are conducted in free form. Students are encouraged to ask questions and voice opinions. And because the classes are small, it never turns into a circus. The kids, with their teacher, sit around a table and discuss whatever is on the syllabus that day; learning happens as a group. The air around the table is open -- no one is taught to be afraid to say or ask the wrong thing.
This set-up was what got me on board. I remember painful days in my school when my classmates and I would squirm in our seats, petrified that the teacher would call on us, and we’d make a mistake. There’s none of that in my kids’ school. The use of discussions over lectures has even carried over into our meals at home. When they went to traditional schools, my children didn’t enjoy talking about what they learned in school. Today, they like talking about the solar system and solving math problems in between talking about Pokemon and Harry Potter.
There’s also little homework. Probably because the classes are small, the teachers can make sure that each student understands the lessons well enough not to need extra studying at home. But when homework does get assigned, it’s usually the more practical kind: learn how to cook something; wash the dishes; plant a vegetable.
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Less -- or usually, zero -- homework means the kids have more free time after class. It is here where it becomes a bit complicated. On the one hand, it’s good that the kids don’t have to spend two extra hours a day hunched over their desk, studying, and instead be able to do other things that interest them. On the other hand, having all that free time brings on endless negotiations about screen time -- at least in our house, it does. We are lucky that I can work freelance; I can be home and deal out the boredom when imaginations need to be stretched, and eyes need to rest from gadget use.
My kids like talking about the solar system and solving math problems in between talking about Pokemon and Harry Potter.
Blended learning is a hands-on approach not just for the teachers but everyone involved in it, especially the parents or guardians. There are scheduled parent-teacher conferences every semester, but there can also be quick huddles with the teachers other times. That way, parents don’t have to wait until the end of the semester to find out what’s happening with their kids in school.
As with any school, it takes commitment to stick with a different method of learning for our kids. My husband and I have had to un-learn some things that, up until we enrolled our kids at BLC, we thought were school canon. We grew up thinking that kids need to be in a classroom setting to learn—one day, the BLC kids went to watch a mini-concert at UP’s Abelardo Hall; that was their lesson for the day. We also studied in places where distractions were frowned upon—my kids’ school’s Labradors occasionally join classes that, I imagine, are especially interesting for them. I believe the dogs’ presence further relaxes the class, opening up the opportunity for more learning.
I understand that the blended learning method—just like any other learning method—isn’t for everyone. Each student, each family has their preference. But for my family, using this method has not only lifted our hopes for education. It has also made all four of us better students.