If businesses can operate at limited capacities, limited face-to-face classes should also be allowed. Senator Win Gatchalian made this call as he pitched the idea of holding limited face-to-face classes through ‘purok workshops’ in areas with little or no transmission of COVID-19.
For Gatchalian, holding these ‘purok workshops’ can help address persisting distance learning woes. The lawmaker proposed that ‘roving teachers’, including the learning support aides hired by the Department of Education (DepEd), can be deployed per barangay zone or purok to teach a small group of up to ten children.
“Kung unti-unti na nating binubuksan ang mga negosyo, nararapat lang na pahintulutan na rin nating magkaroon ng limitadong face-to-face classes sa mga lugar na maituturing nating low-risk areas. Ang ating panukala ay gawin ang mga ito sa mga purok ng ating mga komunidad kung saan ang mga maliliit na grupo ng mga mag-aaral ay maaaring gabayan ng mga guro,” said the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
Gatchalian explained that this proposal is inspired by the learning pods that became popular in the United States. These learning pods were first formed by parents who were worried that children may not have the attention for online learning. Some pods hired teachers to teach children’s curriculum and some share responsibilities with parents.
By mounting purok workshops in low-risk areas, especially those with zero cases of COVID-19, Gatchalian said that the learners will not only receive proper guidance from teachers. They can also meet their need for social interaction, which they have not been able to do since the imposition of lockdown measures in March. As of November 7, there were less than 500 municipalities that have zero cases of COVID-19, based on the map of the University of the Philippines’ tracker.
The lawmaker said connectivity is the top challenge that hound both learners and teachers in this time of distance learning, noting that internet connectivity tends to be unreliable even in areas that are connected to the internet.
Gatchalian also shared the example of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM). In a Senate panel hearing, Bangsamoro Minister of Basic, Higher and Technical Education Mohagher Iqbal said only 20 percent of BARMM can connect to the internet. As of November 10, there were only 501 active COVID-19 cases throughout the region.
Gatchalian also observed that even if distributing self-learning modules (SLMs) is an available option for more than 22 million public school learners, some subjects are still difficult to understand without the guidance of a teacher. He added that not all parents or guardians are capable of guiding learners in their lessons.
While ‘purok workshops’ can help address these woes, Gatchalian emphasized that these small gatherings should still observe minimum health standards such as physical distancing, wearing of masks, and ensuring the availability of hand hygiene necessities.
“Bagama’t malaking hamon ang kinakaharap ng sektor ng edukasyon at marami sa atin ang naninibago, mahalagang patuloy tayong humanap ng paraan upang maging mabisa ang pagpapatuloy ng edukasyon sa gitna ng pandemya,” he concluded.