Press Release
February 25, 2021

ANC Matters of Fact interview of Sen. Win Gatchalian with Christian Esguerra on the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes

Q: Based on the hearing yesterday what has been established?

SEN WIN: Before I answer that, I just want to start with the Senate's advocacy on pushing for a pilot testing program. If you remember last year DepEd already set in motion to pilot test a thousand schools and the importance of this is to gain knowledge on how to navigate through Covid in light of opening classes in the future. We have to do the pilot testing to get a lot of information and data and study it very hard. There are a lot of researches that came out in the US, in Europe but these are US settings, the Philippines is a much different setting so it is important that we do this pilot testing so that we gain knowledge and we use scientific data to navigate through Covid in light opening classes in the future.

Q: You 're talking about pilot testing that was supposed to happen in January right? Limited face-to-face classes?

SEN WIN: Correct, that's about a thousand schools, localized, limited face-to-face classes starting with those areas with zero Covid. Now in terms of assessment, distance learning is very challenging, this is the first time that we have launched this in our history and a lot of parents, teachers implemented this for the first time. Assessment is already set in motion, meaning a lot of schools are already doing their own assessment and analysis whether our learners are in fact learning. I got the preliminary data from Valenzuela and I found out that their students there are not doing so well, hovering around the 40 percent range. The reason that I said they are not doing well is because pre-Covid we already have a lot of problems in learner outcomes, if you remember we were last in PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). We are playing catching up so meaning we have to score a high of 70 percent and above to catch up that low performance in PISA. Having scores around 40 percent doesn't speak well of our distance learning.

Q: This 40 percent pertains to what?

SEN WIN: This pertains to the Valenzuela assessment of our learners, meaning they assess our learners and they try to determine if their learners are indeed learning using these self-learning modules and the score that came out is around 40 percent.

Q: In terms of what specific areas for example?

SEN WIN: This is across subjects, this is an average but the caveat here is it's only in Valenzuela. I just want to share this because the other areas, the other divisions are still doing their own assessment. So my initial reaction to this is, it's very challenging to launch distance learning because not all our students have the luxury of internet so all of them are using the manual self-learning modules and it's very difficult because we rely on our parents to teach and to tutor our students and we all know that not all of our parents have graduated elementary or even high school.

Q: Even those with connection are struggling, focusing or concentrating on the subject?

SEN WIN: You are very correct. In fact I conducted my own focus group on this and the initial reaction from parents is number one, concentration from the student is very difficult. There's a lot of distractions especially if you are living in a small home. There's a lot of distraction from your siblings, a lot of distractions from your parents themselves. Even the parents are distracted also because they are working, they are doing household chores so a lot of distractions. Concentration is very difficult inside the home. That's why the performance of our students are now affected because of the complications inside their homes and launching this distance learning.

Q: Did DepEd officials say, during the hearing yesterday as to how soon they are expected to complete the assessment?

SEN WIN: The first semester will end this week, February 27. So meaning we're already halfway when it comes to the school year and assessment is being conducted in various divisions, they will probably be available to the public, to policy makers by the first or second week of March. The data that will come out from this assessment is very important because it will help us come up with interventions that will help our students. It's important to pinpoint where the students are weak and it's important to give them the right interventions so that they can keep up so that when they move to the next grade level they will have an easy time to keep up.

Q: What are the gaps that you have identified aside from the problems with the learning modules? Problems with the households with no computers or even connections? What other gaps have you established?

SEN WIN: The most prevalent gaps that I have detected is the intervention or the tutoring that our parents should give to our children. Those who are independent learners, meaning grade four or grade five and above they can study by themselves but from kindergarten all the way to grade three the participation of our parents is very important. This is where the problem comes in because our parents come from different backgrounds, some graduated from college well and good, some of them didn't have the luxury of graduating basic education and that is where the problem comes in. I have talked to a lot of Mayors, especially from rural areas and this is where the complications come in because our parents are not confident themselves to teach and to tutor our children and that's why the clamor for face-to-face is quite loud in the rural areas because of these anecdotes and these examples.

Q: Another problem is if the family has to worry about other things like livelihood? What particular interventions are you seeing?

SEN WIN: Definitely some of the comments that we get from the focus groups, the livelihood time or time to add additional money on the table is cut because they are now teaching or tutoring their children. So instead of going out to sell food or items to gain livelihood that's scrapped in half, waived from now to give time to teach our children. So it's also affecting the livelihood and well-being of the entire family. So those are the things that we see in the distance learning complications. So what we really want is for the government to intervene, DepEd to intervene to make it easier for example, some of the solutions that we are seeing is for our teachers to participate heavily, to add more time to connect with our students and to interact with our students. Some of the interventions that we are also seeing are roving teachers, teachers going to communities, interacting with students on a one-to-one basis and those students who need additional interventions, our teachers can go there and tutor the child.

Q: But are the teachers also getting enough support from the government? Internet connection? PPE's?

SEN WIN: I'll be honest, it's not enough, we have 900,000 teachers. Not all of our teachers have the luxury of the internet. We did put some in Bayanihan 2 as well as in the 2001 budget however it's not enough to sustain it. So that's why this distance learning should, if possible should be limited to urban areas or high risk areas but I have to admit budget to support our teachers with internet connection, gadgets as well as other necessities to successfully implement distance learning is not enough.

Q: In areas with low risk for Covid-19 we can explore or even implement face-to-face classes because they are undergoing a different situation there? In distance learning you focus on areas with concentration of cases?

SEN WIN: I would strongly suggest to do this in phases, that's why the Senate advocates that pilot testing. So we do a small pilot testing program, a thousand schools out of 60,0000. Basically that's a small amount compared to a whole universe of our schools. Learn from it, how to navigate through Covid, and then get the information that we can get from that pilot testing, we do it in phases. The next phase will probably be the low-risk, zero risk areas. There are about 433 municipalities that have zero Covid, some of the municipalities have never had Covid. So we can do that in the second phase but with strict protocols and with limited interaction also. For example, we are not contemplating five days a week, maybe once a week, twice a week depending on the situation there but what is important here is to study the science behind it.

Q: Even if you allow that, wouldn't it be more prudent to just wait for the vaccines?

SEN WIN: The pilot testing can go ahead because the pilot testing will be in areas that are zero Covid. We need information, so even though we have the vaccine, for example, it will also take time for our schools to be normalized because we also need to wear a mask, put health protocols in place, so it will also take time for the entire education system to normalize. So the pilot testing will give us a wealth of information and data on how to go back to our face-to-face classes in the future. That's what is important right now is to study this carefully and a lot of countries have been doing this. In fact, in Asia right now we're the only country which has not opened schools yet. A lot of our neighbors have already started school, a lot of our neighbors have already started face-to-face classes and that's why we have to study our situation very carefully.

Q: The only difference is we don't have vaccines yet?

SEN WIN: Yes it is delayed but in other areas, in other countries, even though they don't have the vaccine they already started face-to-face classes. Some partial, some are once a week, but it's important to study the situation carefully. Each country will have a particular situation. That's why we learn from them but we also study our own and that's how we can move forward.

Q: So far, based on the science and data here in the Philippines do they point to a pilot test for at least limited face-to-face classes?

SEN WIN: Since we haven't launched our pilot testing program we can only consult the experts on how to go about this and study it very carefully. From what I gathered from experts, we can do the pilot testing program in very low risk areas for example the islands. In fact in Region 7 where the pilot testing was supposed to launch, they volunteered because they have islands there that have never had Covid since the beginning. So they said since we are an island municipality, we want to volunteer to start their face-to-face and study the situation there and use the information to cascade it in other areas.

Q: Even if the data all point to that option, even if you convince DepEd or the IATF, ultimately it's President who will decide, there's an impression his decision doesn't point to the science even if his allies are saying it, basically the decision of the President regarding something as serious as this is also driven by populist consideration?

SEN WIN: the President is looking at a much bigger picture than education and he looks at data, health concerns, community transmission, he looks at a gamut of information and data. His decision is based on experts' decisions especially IATF so DepEd is just one of the sectors that IATF is looking at. So we just have to appreciate and respect the whole situation, the whole macro situation that the President is looking at. That is why we have to do this in phases and starting with phase one which is the pilot testing. Sorry I keep on repeating this but we have to apply the phases in order to reach the goal and the goal here is the safe reopening of classes.

Q: What are your initial findings from the hearing regarding the quality of modules being used during the distance learning program?

SEN WIN: Well the quality of modules is also quite, I would say questionable because we also get a lot of errors. In fact our office received a lot of emails, complaints about the different errors ranging from stereotypes, ranging from grammatical errors and this is very challenging that's why I always remind DepEd to activate their quality assurance system. Making all of these modules and textbooks they have a quality assurance process but obviously it's not working to our expectations. Stereotyping for example, the Ifugao case where our kababayans in the Cordillera areas were also stereotyped. This should not happen because what our students learn, they think it's reality and that should not be the case. For me, the process was questionable and that yielded to questionable learning modules as well.

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