Airports, restaurants, hotels, markets, offices, and shopping malls – all could be shuttered wholesale by COVID-19. Save for the family home, no place has been safe from getting shut down in the short or long term. Even some hospitals in the world had to close due to the present health crisis.

School classrooms in most countries have been one of the most easily affected in the modern pandemic’s wake, a global tsunami that has the power to reshape the way we live, how we move around and how we think.

Yet even as COVID-19 closes, it also opens places. The shift in modalities in Philippine Education trigger more than just logistical concerns in areas affected by the coronavirus. Even when many physical classrooms stay shut, a virtual room is truly able to accept people of all colour and class.

The net-based schoolroom has infinite capacities. It is tuition-free and regularly hosts an umpteenth number of enrollees. Its libraries hold more information than any comprehensive collection of school books. It is also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, twelve months a year.

As traditional classroom-based teaching urgently gives way to blended learning practices, transformations happen in the minds of teachers, parents and children in our urban cities and rural towns… how?

Changes took place throughout history in snail-pace transits between long epochs, transformations negotiated in inches year per year, decade after decade. As of late, it happens in quantum leaps. It is usually long after humanity’s giant strides, that we recognize the breaks that separate our great paradigms.

COVID-19 marks change in milestones per day, pulling the comfortable rug from underneath the feet of populations caught unaware that the next day, the world may not operate under the same dependable ground built by a lifetime of patterns.

For those borne exclusively to the digital age (those who were born after typewriters and other analog technologies), the predominant use of paper-bound books is distant past. But the difference in new media usage isn’t based on technological innovation per se; it’s the mental transitions in the media users themselves which bear insight to the nature of our transformations.

Harold Innis wrote in his Empire and Communications, “the task of understanding a culture built on oral tradition is impossible to students steeped in the written tradition.” Our young students will have their own impossible task to muster.

Marshall McLuhan’s pondering in the ’60s is a good place to start: “after a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

Filipino Time

Chronemics deals with the study of time in the language and minds of those from different geographic, climatic, and cultural orientations.

We knowingly shrug when the terminology “Filipino Time” is uttered. It means our friends and colleagues naturally operate on a tempo set to our warm tropical clocks. Westerners who first settled long in the Global South eventually learned to set the clock back an hour or more prior to the moment they hope any activity might actually commence.

In chronemics, Philippine schedules ascribe to polychronic time – cultural ecosystems where traditions and relationships are valued more than tasks and schedules. In a polychronic system, several things can happen simultaneously at any one time. People might be watching television, composing a letter, having a conversation, eating food, and scrolling through social media feeds.

A monochronic system relates to cultures where tasks are accomplished one at a time, segmented into precise time units.

Time in monochrony is a precious resource and must be planned precisely with efficiency, with strict measurable goal-setting in mind.

Yet, the above differentiations may have been relevant only before the 21st century. Hardly anyone conducts thought and task one at a time anymore. Just as McLuhan predicted, monochromic time and space are abolished, as an entire planet returns to polychronic modes of thinking, learning, and doing.

Time to Go

In 1975, Taibi Kahler identified five psychological drivers that subconsciously motivate our adult behaviors. These drivers are rooted in early childhood based on the overdriven statements parents and teachers unintentionally compel upon a young person’s psyche. One of Kahler’s main driver is “hurry up.”

Government and business offices, just like traditional Western school systems, are extensions of the monochronic time orientations that came out of temperate cultures such as Scandinavia, the US, or England where time is strictly managed based on seasonality. Where certain times of the year receive just a few hours of sunlight per day and where food is grown only certain months of a year, education frameworks function on a punctual clockwork.

Beyond the grid-like scheduling of classes, monochronic cultures are also responsible for the management of school subjects in taxonomic grids and charts.

Yet, monochronic learning is lately finding its antithesis in Rhizomatic Learning, a recent name that comes to describe the new learning methods enabled by the polychronic internet.

A Rhizome is a plant (such as the turmeric, ginger, or bamboo) that simultaneously spreads across multiple directions in a horizontal fashion. The term is adopted to help visualize how the mind of a natural polychronic thinker freely functions in the ways of the world-wide-web.

Traditional Classroom-based learning is mostly a monochronic event. Oral cultures, like those from across Southeast Asia, originally explored forests of information from rhizomic interconnections, built on languages and psychologies that emerged from organic thinking modes long-settled in those geographic places they naturally birth from.

Monochrony and Polychrony comprise our two interspersed histories which in the current era, balances out. Today’s technological advance somehow attunes a return to our oral tradition’s natural rhythms. Orality and Literacy are two velocities, ever synchronizing to a universal clock, privileging not American, European, African orientations. Rather, the Philippine mind, if given the opportunity, eventually finds its natural chronemics, tick-tocking sensitively to an all-embracing Earth Time.