Press Release
February 10, 2021

One News Agenda interview of Sen. Win Gatchalian with Cito Beltran on face-to-face classes, 'no-fail policy' and internet access and gadgets for all learners

Q: Will we ever get back to face-to-face classroom setting? What is our situation?

SEN WIN: That is the million dollar question, when can we open classes using face-to-face or back to face-to-face? It's really a moving target, in fact we're also monitoring what's happening outside the country. In the US, Europe talagang open, close, open, close but the only research that came out about face-to-face classes was from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US and they we're saying, in their one year of analysis and observation, they concluded that schools are not the haven for virus contraction. So meaning students can actually avoid contracting the virus in schools and the logic for that is, in schools they are monitored, they practice health protocols, social distancing. It is only in their homes or outside the schools that you cannot control them anymore. That's the only research that I have seen so far that stated that schools can be a safe haven for a virus-free environment. Having said that, of course iba sa states at iba dito, we have to analyze that research very carefully and see if that is adaptable here but it is a moving target. Kanina lang I saw in the news that infection rate has jumped to two percent again. So nanalo na tayo below one percent but again it jumped to two percent. In other words, as soon as we leave our guards down, these things can happen. The virus infection rate can go up again and that will prompt our decision makers to postpone and to take a safer route, postponing of face-to-face classes.

Q: What about doing pilots, laboratory type settings because there are places that claim to be Covid-free?

SEN WIN: I looked at the numbers again and 408 LGU's out of 1,500 are Covid-free, zero Covid sila especially in the islands; Batanes, Siquijor, these types of island provinces zero sila in some of their municipalities. I've been advocating that since last year, there's no substitute to face-to-face classes here in our country. The learners will absorb the lessons faster and deeper if they have face-to-face classes and interaction with their teachers but naudlot yun because of the new variant that all of a sudden appeared in our country and that's why DepEd postponed it for a while. But then again I say this, face-to-face classes is a moving a target as soon as we have knowledge on what is going on and adjust to the environment of preventing infection then we can actually open some face-to-face classes in zero risk or low risk areas. Case in point that 400 LGU's that I mentioned, may mga LGU's that never had Covid from the beginning, they're so remote, so far that they never had Covid and these types of LGU's, I think with the proper health protocols can conduct face-to-face classes.

Q: If there are 400 LGU's then why not push for that? I hate to say this pero parang style tamad, lahatan na lang para walang problema... by simplifying the management style here you are actually creating problems on the ground. What about calling that out?

SEN WIN: These are tough decisions, if you ask me on face value I would advocate face-to-face classes in those 400 LGU's that don't have any cases of Covid. On face value, it makes very logical sense they conduct face-to-face classes because wala naman infection doon. I also see the bigger point of view of the IATF because they are not only looking at education per say, they are also looking at potential transmission, movement of people, movement of our constituents and movement of trade and goods. Case in point here is that new variant in Bontoc. Bontoc is a remote municipality up in the mountains, I've been there a few times and I would never have thought that Bontoc will be a hotbed for the new variant, but then again we have OFW's that went back to their province, alam natin our OFW's are scattered all over the place even from very far flung areas. So my point on the matter is, yes we advocate education on face value, we want to pursue face-to-face because it's effective but I also see the point IATF looking at the bigger picture and looking at the movement of people, goods and the potential of one are getting hit by this type of new variant or other variants. They took the conservative route, in other words they took the most safest route.

Q: Yes it's the conservative route, this is the safest in their mind but is it the right decision? What about creating facilities to ensure face-to-face education without the risk of contamination?

SEN WIN: One of the proposal is fifty percent capacity in our schools, in those 400 LGU's so when we say face-to-face classes full blown, 100 percent of the students will go to classes, what we cn do is implement a conservative approach. For example, fifty percent muna, so that means twice a week they will attend classes. That way even twice a week it means a lot already for the students and the teachers actually, because the teachers are pressured to teach, the teachers are pressured to make sure the learners are learning but if they don't have that face-to-face interaction, the only interaction they have is through text or Facebook Messenger which is quite difficult especially in remote areas. We can actually apply conservative methods to open face-to-face classes but then again, I truly advocate this and even last year, but I do understand that it's a moving target. Kanina lang I saw the infection rate moving to two percent. I was actually shocked because for a very long time we were below one percent and this goes to show that there is so much things and so many uncontrollable variables in the light of this virus, so many things we cannot predict. IATF is just taking the most prudent, conservative route in order for them to prevent this from spreading. Also, I think because, this is my analysis on this, since the virus vaccine is already coming soon IATF wants to focus on that, making sure the logistics is in place and making sure the LGU's attention is fully at the vaccine rollout. If we open classes it will take attention away and again, this is my own analysis, one of the things that I was thinking, IATF wants to make sure that the mayors, the LGU's have full attention on how to deliver the vaccines in every place, nook and cranny of our country.

Q: Now, there is no such thing as a failing grade, am I correct in that?

SEN WIN: Diyan pumapasok yung sinasabi mo na convenient, it's really convenient to just pass everyone and let them proceed the higher grade. That's the most convenient way, wag na tayo mag exam or assessment. Education is not about what's convenient for our government, it's about making sure that our learners learn and we help those who cannot keep up. I'm not in favor in that 'no-fail' proposal because we have to pinpoint the weaknesses of our learners. Learners who are weak in Math, learners who are weak in Reading, we have to pinpoint that then intervene through tutorials or through one-on-one classes or one-on-one intervention. That way, when he or she moves to the next grade level, he can keep up with the rigors of the next grade level and work well in the next grade level. The problem with the 'no-fail' policy is that we cannot pinpoint the weaknesses and it would be very difficult for the learners to keep up with next grade level if that learner will have some weaknesses or subjects that he cannot comprehend with.

Q: Given the reality that everything is online... how do we even properly assess who is lagging?

SEN WIN: It's not going to be the usual where there are small quizzes and then there is big exam and then there is the final exam. Even in basic education it's not the same anymore, DepEd had to innovate and come up with a different assessment system. For example, in Reading or in Mathematics there will be an assessment of some sort, for example the student will be given a series of tests and the student will be required to submit a series of let's say short or written examinations. Based on those examinations, the teacher will assess the weaknesses of the student. It's not the usual quizzes or exam, there will be a different assessment methodology. Most likely it will be written, most likely it will be in packets but the important thing here is we will be able to determine what are the weaknesses, what subject matters need improvement and intervention.

Q: Apparently there are four million kids who did not enroll this school year... should we just kiss this school year goodbye?

SEN WIN: That for me is a very dangerous policy because the divide between the rich and poor will definitely widen. Right now, those who have access to the internet and laptops and those who go to exclusive or private schools, they can actually study. In fact a lot of the kids in private schools are studying using online learning. If we do decide to cancel classes for the public schools because a lot of our students, almost 70 percent don't have access to the internet, then they will be left behind. We have to innovate solutions that can reach those learners, these are the distance learning materials that were developed by DepEd, iba pa yung issues doon, we have to reserve that for another session but the modality that DepEd took which I agree, they took to self-learning modules and through different interactions used by the teachers and by the divisions. For example, in Valenzuela we use Facebook live as a mode to teach and deliver to the homes of our learners. So that's one way in a sense that our teachers deliver it through Facebook live, the learners can text, can join in the chat but we all know that it's not as fast as real-time. Somehow, in a way, our teachers can explain through live sessions the materials that they have to learn.

Q: Maraming estudyante, no tablet, no cellphone, no nothing nakikiupo na lang sa kapit-bahay and kung may Covid doon magkakahawa-hawaan. What is the government doing about this, what funding is there?

SEN WIN: To answer your question straight, there is very minimal programs that will address what you mentioned earlier, laptops, gadgets, internet connection to the homes of all of our learners. There is a budget for that but I have to admit it's not big enough to give laptops and give access to the internet to all of our learners. I have a proposal and this is very ambitious, it's a concept of shared responsibility. Internet connection and laptops and gadgets are basic necessities for all learners just like electricity and water and my proposal is to give everyone laptops and internet connection whether in full subsidy or in partial subsidy but it's a shared responsibility for all of us. Somebody has to foot the bill, it's a shared responsibility for us and for the government. The logic for that is, if we give learners access to the internet and gadgets, the whole country will become progressive, it's not fair and not inclusive if only a handful of people will have access to the internet and progress, it has to be the entire country and in order to do that everyone has a shared responsibility.

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