Bridging Educational Gaps Among University Students During the New Normal through the Kumustahan Project: A Focus Group Discussion Initiative for Higher Education

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Bridging Educational Gaps Among University Students During the New Normal through the Kumustahan Project: A Focus Group Discussion Initiative for Higher Education

Percival S. Paras and Achilles Alfred C. Ferranco
Far Eastern University-Manila, Institute of Education, Manila, Philippines
Received: 26 June 2023; Accepted: 08 July 2023; Published: 12 August 2023


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I. Introduction

A year after World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a global pandemic, most universities across the world are still struggling to face the new normal. Online learning has become the means universities have in continuing education. While most progressive universities are digitally prepared, there is another gap that these universities have to deal with – the continuing divide between those who are able to study digitally, and those that are left behind due to economic factors.
In a recent study by Grishchenco (2020), most of the students living in rural areas have been greatly affected by the sudden shift to full digital learning due to the limitations of technology. Beaunoyer, Dupéré, and Guitton (2020) pointed out that the digital divide has already been existing even in the pre-pandemic days. It, however, exacerbated when students were left with no other means but through online learning.

The series of lockdowns caused a lot of limitations to the students. From technological limitations to financial and even social challenges (Lassoued, Alhendawi, & Bashitialshaaer, 2020; Peters, et al., 2020), students are also challenged when it comes to their mental health and psychological wellness (Cao, et al., 2020), causing greater issues on inclusion – both academically and socially.

In the Philippines, the readiness of students in a fully-digital learning space remains low on students’ demographics who belong to lower income and rural areas (Alipio, 2020). Approximately 2,400 Higher Education Institution in the Philippines are challenged to bridge the gap between the economically-able students and those who are being left behind. Prior to the 2020 Pandemic, Oztok et al. (2013) surveyed different means of conducting digital learning to alleviate such gap, through synchronous and asynchronous learning. Years later, the acceptance of synchronous and asynchronous mode of online learning has become a staple in the New Normal set-up of education.
Joaquin, Biana, & Dacela (2020) pointed out that major universities in the Philippines have implemented the different modalities of learning, giving more options for inclusion. De La Salle University and University of Santo Tomas, among many, offers both synchronous and asynchronous modalities, while Ateneo de Manila University suspended synchronous learning during the first semester of the Pandemic to focus on fully asynchronous mode of learning (Joaquin, Biana, & Dacela, 2020).

In Far Eastern University, an additional mode of learning was offered during the entire 2020, on top of synchronous and asynchronous. The Total Analog Learning (TAL) serves as a more independent, less technological, and fully modular learning modality. This is with the intention of reaching even those students who cannot access the internet. TAL comes with a complete Course Information Booklet, complete reading materials, complete list of assessments, other reference materials, and a well-planned calendar guide. Students enrolled in TAL received a couriered flash drive with complete learning materials, which students accomplished and returned at the end of the semester.

Despite these intentions to fully bridge the gap on inclusion, a significant number of students in Far Eastern University continue to express the challenge of digital learning even after a year in the new normal. In a private university like FEU who continues to experience challenges on access to technology and other platforms for digital learning, the conjecture is that significant number of students from other private universities are also experiencing the same situation. Much so, those who are in remote places, public colleges and universities, and other economically-challenged communities may have been confronted with the same problems.