imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

F2F learning by January?

If Vice President Leni Robredo’s learning hub with all its cubicle and protective enclosement is being abhorred by some agencies and sectors, how much more if we have the Face-to-Face (F2F) by January?

What are VP Leni’s learning hubs, fellas?

They are centers for distant online learnings where with gadgets so students can access the internet and attend their online classes. They are especially provided for poor students with no or limited internet access. They are not like school classrooms where students have to go in every day. Here, students, especially those who have no gadgets or internet connection to use, can visit the hubs to get additional help or only when submitting their online class requirements. At the hubs, students could use the computers for free to download and print their learning modules. Tutorial lessons for particular subjects were also offered at the learning hubs.

Robredo kicked off her community learning hubs project in October 19 to benefit students who have to take their classes online but have no access to gadgets and strong internet connection at home. Health and physical distancing protocols were followed to ensure that the learners, parents, and tutors were protected from the coronavirus. They were required to always wear their face masks. The hubs were regularly disinfected, while alcohol, soap, and water were always available for their use.

To date, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) has 12 learning hubs benefitting more than 2,000 students. They are found in Pasig City; Taytay, Rizal; Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental (2 hubs); San Jose, Camarines Sur; Barangay 11 in Lucena City, Quezon; Barangay Dalahican in Lucena City, Quezon; Tabaco, Albay; Sampaloc, Manila; Alcantara, Romblon; Barugo, Leyte and Balete, Aklan.

But lately, there have been issues hounding the establishment of the OVP’s learning hubs. DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones earlier said they did not approve of the OVP’s education centers because the government has yet to allow face-to-face classes even if the Community Learning Hubs are mere studying areas for students who do not have gadgets and access to the internet – basic requirements for DepEd’s distance and blended learning schemes.

Vice President Leni Robredo’s spokesperson, Atty. Barry Gutierrez in a statement said that the Community Learning Hubs initiative was coordinated with the Department of Education, at both the national and local levels, every step of the way. He also said that in the official correspondences between the OVP and the DepEd, Sec. Briones herself mentioned that ‘it is a good initiative’ and in fact requested additional details to ‘evaluate the feasibility of implementing such a program at scale.’

How about if, instead of the distant learning modality and online classes using learning hubs, why not toy with the idea of conducting F2F classes by January or by the first quarter of 2021, fellas?

Lately, some senators are urging the Department of Education (DepEd) to consider resuming face-to-face classes, as they expressed apprehensions about whether students are able to retain much from the current modes of remote learning, especially those unable to take online classes.

In a hearing of the Senate committee on basic education, arts, and culture Senator Sherwin Gatchalian expressed his opinion that the situation has changed.

“I think we can already look at executing some form of localized limited face-to-face classes especially in areas where there is no COVID in their municipality,” he said.

Gatchalian also cited that in many places, such as in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), parents who barely had any schooling are downright unable to help their children with schoolwork.

“With a 29% decrease in enrollments, BARMM appears by far to be the most adversely affected region in terms of education. This is even if 30% of BARMM municipalities have not had a single case of COVID-19,” he said.

Senator Imee Marcos has been more vocal.

In the hearing, she said that the Philippines is the “penultimate country in the world” still keeping its schools shuttered, despite consistent evidence that “face-to-face classes are not super spreaders of the coronavirus disease.”

“I will confess my bafflement and fury several days ago when the cockpits were officially opened and allowed to operate. Has gambling now become an ‘essential activity’ to Filipinos and education a frivolous luxury? Let us open the schools wherever we can and keep them accessible for as long as possible. Instead of keeping schools closed, the government should focus on protecting the teachers, students, and families from the virus outside the classroom,” she said.

She further said that the closure of schools and the shift to distance learning have been “too overwhelming to bear” for children and the community and that teachers have difficulty instructing students through “erratic remote learning and substandard inadequate modules.”

In the hearing, she said that the Philippines is the “penultimate country in the world” still keeping its schools shuttered, despite consistent evidence that “face-to-face classes are not super spreaders of the coronavirus disease.”

“I will confess my bafflement and fury several days ago when the cockpits were officially opened and allowed to operate. Has gambling now become an ‘essential activity’ to Filipinos and education a frivolous luxury? Let us open the schools wherever we can and keep them accessible for as long as possible. Instead of keeping schools closed, the government should focus on protecting the teachers, students, and families from the virus outside the classroom,” she said.

She further said that the closure of schools and the shift to distance learning have been “too overwhelming to bear” for children and the community and that teachers have difficulty instructing students through “erratic remote learning and substandard inadequate modules.”

Are students actually learning?

Senator Nancy Binay said she worries that public school students will fall even farther behind their peers in private schools because of the huge disparity in online access to teachers and learning materials. Private school students typically come from more well-to-do families and are able to participate in synchronous online classes that allow for real-time interaction with teachers and classmates.

Will the DepEd listen to these clamors?

The DepEd says it’s up to the president.

The DepEd recognizes that increased interaction between teachers and students would be a big help, if not virtually, then with “occasional or intermittent face-to-face interactions.” It said that the reintroduction of face-to-face classes will require approval by the President given the public health considerations.

The Department of Education (DepEd) has started to study the possible resumption of limited face-to-face classes in areas deemed “absolutely safe” in the wake of the breakthrough in the development of the coronavirus vaccine abroad.

“We are studying that possibility but definitely not this year and definitely not until the president makes a pronouncement,” Briones said during a televised press briefing.

Klaro naman kung magkaroon ng (It is clear that if there will be) face-to-face (classes), it will be very limited to areas which are absolutely safe. There will be conditions from the Department of Health. There will also be conditions coming from us,” she added.

Briones said they would have to get clearance from the health department and the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Infectious Diseases (IATF) on the matter. She insisted that any future resumption of face-to-face classes must be “very selective” to ensure the health and safety of students.

“If there are areas where it’s safe and we’ll get clearance from the Department of Health and the IATF, kasi sila ang nag-a-asses ng health situation. At saka depende sa approach iyan kasi iyong number of students, etc (because they assess the health situation and it depends on the approach, the number of students etc.) so we are now looking into that,” she said.

At present, Briones maintained that face-to-face classes are not allowed upon the orders of the President. In lieu of in-person classes, the government has promoted alternative learning methods, including modular and online instruction, this school year to protect the students from the coronavirus infection.

If F2F classes will be opened, will we be alone?

The answer is no, fellas, as there are also F2F classes in some other parts of the globe. Observing physical distancing, disinfection and wearing protective masks and gears, classes are reported in some parts of the United States, India, Germany, Algeria, Russia, Ethiopia, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Italy, Tunisia, Jordan, Belgium, Hungary and North Macedonia.

It is also interesting to note that most of these countries have the highest rate of 2nd or 3rd wave of infections. F2F classes in Belgium is optional.

What do you think in our country, fellas? Are we ready to take the risk?

Your answer is as good as mine.