Press Release
April 14, 2021

WIN RELEASE | ANC Top Story Interview of Sen. Win Gatchalian with Ron Cruz on academic break

Q: Why is the poor going to be more affected by this call for an academic break?

SEN. WIN: Well, as we speak, there's now a divide, wherein if you can afford to have your own laptop or your own computer and then you can afford to have access to the internet and continuous schooling. But a large part of our population, almost close to probably 80 percent of our population, do not have access to the internet and to gadgets that can run the internet. That's why the choice for distance learning is through the self-learning modules. And the self-learning modules as it is right now, it's quite difficult because not all of our parents have graduated from basic education. So the more we prolong schooling or the more we stop schooling, those ones who can afford to continue schooling will continue, those who cannot afford will stop and eventually be left behind.

Q: Okay, I took a look at the reasoning, the issue that was being raised by those groups calling for an academic break, and they're saying it's for their well-being, they're just asking for time to breathe from all the stress brought about by the pandemic and now it's affecting them and their families. They're talking about what they're feeling now, of course, you're looking at the effects of that down the line, but would you be able to tell us how much could maybe a week long break affect learning and education for the students.

SEN. WIN: There are about 17 million students out of the 23 million students who are under the GCQ or MGCQ areas. These quarantine levels are the most relaxed, so to speak in terms of quarantine levels. If you remember Metro Manila was once under GCQ and during those times there were loud calls to go back to face to face. So meaning 17 million students are now under GCQ and MGCQ, and for all intents and purposes can already launch their own pilot, face to face classes. So, in other words, only 5 million students, these 5 million students, these are the ones under the MECQ including Metro Manila and NCR plus are actually in that more restrictive quarantine level. So in other words, the entire nation is not under restrictive quarantine levels. Only 20 percent of the student population is under restrictive quarantine levels. Even within NCR and within NCR plus, it's not the same. Like for example here in Valenzuela, we don't have pockets of infection. We are under MECQ, but we have areas and barangays here that are not highly infectious are not in that critical level so to speak. So in other words, students can continue to study, students can continue to learn and they're at home anyways, and even under GCQ level, the only modality for the teachers to reach them is through phones, through internet, and when they're at home studying. So, even under MECQ learning should continue. And this is important because if we stop their learning, our children's learning, they will be left behind and the divide will get bigger and bigger.

Q: And it could also affect the momentum of learning for the students, right?

SEN. WIN: What I suggest Ron is to do a pocket analysis. Meaning, let the LGUs, even the principal, so let the schools decide whether they can call for a break or they can suspend schooling depending on the situation. If you remember, the early part of March some barangays in Pasay were locked down, obviously, you cannot continue schooling at that time because there are areas that are highly infectious so let the LGUs decide which school, which areas need a break. Let the principal's decide which school, which areas need to suspend schooling, because of the infection.

Q: Okay, but for them also, you may propose something of a balance. Let them gauge them how their students are faring or how they're feeling and let them decide based on that, if they want to have their own academic breaks per school or per city, just for the benefit of those so wanting or asking for an academic break.

SEN. WIN: You're absolutely correct. In fact, even here in Valenzuela when I talk to our principals, they are not hardline that if we have school, everyone goes to school and everyone needs to pass their assignments. They're very sensitive to what's happening in the community. Some of the families who got infected, some of the compounds that got infected. The principles are very lenient. They actually give the students and the parents a little bit more time to fulfill what they need to fulfill. So in other words the principles are very sensitive to what's happening and so let them be empowered to respond to what's happening in their community. As opposed to a nationwide academic break and a nationwide formula. As we all know it's not the same for everyone, so we cannot apply the same formula for the entire nation.

Q: You and some other senator have that fear of course, that students have already fallen behind in their education due to the pandemic because of this distance learning system that we've implemented here in the country. But, has there really been a study or data which shows that they are actually falling behind, of course, a lot of parents would want to know if the kids are really learning in this kind of a setup.

SEN. WIN: We're pushing DepEd to come up with the honest to goodness to true-blue analysis of how distance learning, is in fact, allowing our children to absorb the self-learning modules that were distributed to them. Right now as we speak, DepEd is already doing their own assessment. Each school can do also do their own assessment. From the preliminary assessment that I am seeing our students are having a hard time. Here in Valenzuela, we conducted our own assessment to gauge whether our kids are in fact learning through this distance learning. And unfortunately only 15 percent passed their examination in various subjects. So meaning only 15 percent of our students are indeed absorbing the lessons that we need to absorb, and this is quite challenging, we have to remember that there is no human interaction within the learner, and the teacher, and it's very challenging because some learners really need to be guided personally, tutored personally, and this has become a challenge for our teachers because they cannot connect with them physically.

Q: Finally, Senator in the scenario that the pandemic takes longer to be handled and the President and DepEd still would reject face-to-face classes for the next school year, most especially for those hotspot COVID areas. What improvements would you want to see in the distance learning system?

SEN. WIN: I've been pushing for face-to-face learning, I've been pushing to go back to face-to-face classes, unfortunately this virus has been so unpredictable. In fact, I've been tracking the number of areas that are zero COVID. Just to give you an idea, first week of March we had approximately about 455 LGUs that are zero COVID. Today, there are only 152 LGUs that are zero COVID. So, 300 LGUs, all of a sudden, in the span of a month and a half had COVID in their locality. So we can see that COVID is quite unpredictable and because of migration, movement and because of commerce, people are coming and going and with that the virus is being transmitted in the various parts of the country. But we should not stop there, I believe that at one point we will go back to a less restrictive quarantine level. In fact, as we roll out the vaccine, we will probably enter into what we call this herd immunity and the possibility of face-to-face classes will increase later on, so the best thing to do now is to prepare. Let's use this time of no face-to-face classes to prepare. Prepare our schools, making sure that they have the proper health protocols like for example handwashing facilities, alcohol. Let's vaccinate our teachers. I sent a letter to IATF to prioritize our teachers to move them to the A4 or even higher priority level, so that our teachers and school officials can get vaccinated ahead and treat them as our education frontliners. So when we open schools, our teachers are already vaccinated. Our parents are confident that their kids will not be infected by their own teachers and school officials. So let's get our school system ready in time.

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