In a recent palaver (via zoom) my friends and I were wondering about the long -term effects of COVID 19 on the educational system, now that private and public schools are closed and distant learning, the alternative, is not available to the majority. When that spirited discussion ended, I asked myself—what if COVID 19 had cast its pall of gloom in the early 1960’s when we were still in school? What would our parents have done? My full brother ( Toto, the posthumous one) was a high school senior then and I a college freshman. Two of our half – siblings ( Ramon and Lisa Nakpil) were in primary school and the youngest (Luis) was a babe in arms. There were also two stepsisters, Nina and Carmina. With all schools closed because of the pandemic, what would our dear Mommy have done?
Her life then was swinging gently in perpetual balance, like a Calder mobile. On one hand, she was a career woman, an influencer, unrivalled as a writer, political analyst and journalist with daily deadlines to beat. On the other, she was a wife (of my stepfather Angel Nakpil) , a homemaker with a houseful of children, each with different needs, plus a menage of domestics to train and bring to heel. She used to say that her favorite nursery rhyme was : “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, she had so many children she didn’t know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread, then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.”
No, she never whipped any of us, though sometimes she must have felt the urge to do so; there were frightful outbursts, but she also had secret reserves of resilience and was an expert at smoothing feathers. With all that as a backdrop, the sudden closure of schools due to a pandemic would have put Mommy’s daily schedule out of kilter because that meant she would no longer have the house to herself just when she needed peace and quiet. We would all be at home tugging at her sleeves, sulking, making hungry noises, vying for her attention when she had to finish those opinion columns in time for the newspaper pick -up service. Email had not been invented, Viber and Instagram were sci-fi and Messenger was on a two- wheeled bike.
Round about that time, my godmother decided to send all her five children to school in England, not that she wanted some tranquility, she was convinced of the superiority of a British education. I wonder if she would have changed her plans had there been a pandemic. Well, my feisty godmother wanted company so she palavered with Mommy to send me and Toto to England as well. But Mommy said she could not afford to send us abroad to study. Some years later, she did reveal that she had toyed with the idea of sending us along with our cousins, until she consulted the British ambassador. He was a good friend and a frequent dinner guest at our home. Apparently, the erudite diplomat told her, “No, Carmen, don’t send them to that school ( in England), your children are better off growing up with someone like you.” That is why my siblings and I are all completely home-grown, proud graduates of the unique Carmen Guerrero Cruz Nakpil Finishing School.
No pandemic could have fazed my mother, she would have risen to the occasion. Her career as journalist may have been nicked, but you can be sure she would have home-schooled all of us with unflagging energy. There were enough books in our family library to prepare us for college and among my parents’ friends were eminent writers, historians, artists, scientists and statesmen, most of whom had authored those seminal books. Whenever there was a party home, I would be thoroughly fascinated while listening to their bombastic after- dinner debates and would be coaxed into venting my own opinions. Mommy would have set up a formal classroom-like arrangement for them to give us. and some classmates, a few “lectures ” that would have imbued us with the “sentimiento nacional” Jose Rizal advocated.
My stepfather would have been recruited to give math and geometry lessons ( he used to coach me), classes on art history and architecture, both local and foreign. . My grandma, Filomena Francisco Guerrero was still alive then. She was the first lady pharmacist, hers was the first batch of co-eds to graduate from the Liceo de Manila. She could have taught us Spanish, kindled an interest in science, botany and home economics. My uncle Mario, a fencing champion, would have been an ideal physical education teacher.
From a retrospective peak, I realize that the formal schooling we had in the course of 20 years is now a thing of the past. It had to take a pandemic to force us to face challenges at odd angles with reality. Even the topography of educational institutions, their physical configuration are changing because of advances in technology. Although socialization is mostly virtual, the students of today have a much wider horizon than what we had; they are in touch with a world with no frontiers or physical barriers. How fascinating that information is now at one’s fingertips, long hours spent on research, mining archives and libraries, have been reduced to seconds. File cards are no longer cumbersome as they fit in a small tablet and pocket-sized phone.
Certainly, it will be an irretrievable blunder if parents, mothers in particular, grandparents, aunts and uncles who have experiences and knowledge to share do not harness this opportunity brought about by the pandemic to be deeply engaged in the formation of generations of young Filipinos.