I think the transition to online distance learning was not as difficult for Affordable Private Education Center (APEC) Schools mainly because of how we are organized and how we operate,” said Joie Lopez, president and CEO of APEC Schools. “Our curriculum and teaching materials are developed centrally, and that’s how it has always been. This is meant to ensure that quality is consistent across all our branches.”
Lopez was one of the panelists in the recent Inquirer INQlusive webinar, “Education in Focus: The Classroom at Home.”
APEC Schools, the largest chain of stand-alone private high schools in the Philippines, was established in 2013 out of the desire to raise the standard of high school education. APEC Schools has been teaching junior and high school senior students in 23 branches across Metro Manila and Calabarzon. It has more than 500 teachers and more than 15,000 students.
Wanting students to be more prepared for higher education and employment, APEC Schools takes a progressive and tech-driven approach to teaching—and it’s proving to be effective. Their students have an 88.46-percent college entrance exams passing rate and receive competitive job offers 120 days after graduation.
APEC Schools was one of the few schools that managed to successfully transition to online distance learning in the early days of the lockdown.
Because of how they operate, Lopez said, “When the pivot to online distance learning was needed, our teachers didn’t have to figure out how to prepare materials by themselves. The materials are housed in our learning management system which they can access.”
The curriculum team developed modules geared toward online learning. “Then we trained the teachers and we rolled out the modules,” said Lopez. That made them ready to deliver the same quality of education while navigating the new normal.
Even before the pandemic, their teachers and students were already using technology in their classes. “All of our teachers are provided with laptops with which they conduct their classes,” Lopez said. “Our students use Chromebooks and tablets in class so transitioning to online learning was not as painful.”
And then, she added, “There’s that combination of luck and preparation.”
In January, when Taal started showing signs of volcanic activity, the people behind APEC Schools were quick to move. “We were worried about missing school days so we thought about what would happen, how we would handle it if classes were suspended. We then had some time for planning and preparation.”
That preparation paid off. “We are ready to open the school year on Aug. 24 in blended mode. This means that while face-to-face classes are not allowed, our classes will be online. But when the situation gets better and we can go back to the classrooms and we assess that it is safe for our students and employees to go back, we will gradually transition back to the classrooms.”
But for parents who do not feel comfortable sending their children back to school, they have also prepared a fully online program.
APEC Schools offers the APEC Agile distance learning program for Grades 7 to 12 and the APEC Flex homeschooling program for Grades 7 and 8.
APEC Schools describes APEC Agile as “a teacher-led learning program that is designed for easy transition from online learning, blended learning, to face-to-face learning delivery.” Teachers and students will get to interact through synchronous and asynchronous online sessions.
With APEC Flex, students will depend on their parents more. It’s a parent-led, 100-percent homeschooling learning program that will “jumpstart the students’ junior high school journey in the safety of their own homes.” Parents and students will get help and expertise from subject-matter experts and course coordinators.
Keeping in mind the challenges of internet connectivity in the country, Lopez said that “the modules and materials were designed in a way that we maximize learning, but are conscious of not requiring too much bandwidth from the students.”
Another beautiful thing APEC Schools is doing is developing a module on how to teach online. They will be making this available for free on their Facebook page for all educators. “I hope that will be helpful for the teachers out there who are trying to figure things out,” Lopez said.
She added, “This year has been very challenging, the coming school year will be very interesting. It will test all of us—the schools, the implementing agencies, the parents and the students—but we all have a common goal: ensuring the continuing quality education for our children. If we work together and be patient with the adjustment, I think we can get our kids through it.”