Customer service assistant offers free online classes during the pandemic

Most people usually spend their weekends resting after a long week at work. Before Sunday, October 4, Banjo Villacruz did the same thing. After a week of working at his 9-to-5 job as a customer service assistant, he would spend his weekends with his friends at a computer shop in Quezon City. 

While waiting for his friends during one of their hangouts, he spotted a group of kids playing online games and wondered why they weren’t in school.

Wala po kaming internet sa bahay and 1 hour lang kami dito sa computer shop. Hindi rin kaya ng magulang namin na mag-online class,” the kids said.

(We don’t have internet connection at home and we can only afford to stay for 1 hour here in the computer shop. Our parents can’t afford online class, either.)

Villacruz, coming from a poor family, understood what it felt like not to be able to study. He asked the kids, “Kung magtuturo ba ako nang libre online, manunuod [ba] kayo?

(If I taught online for free, will you watch?) 

The kids were delighted and hurriedly said “Opo! (Yes!)” to the offer, and Villacruz's Sunday classes began.

Villacruz didn’t initially plan on becoming a teacher. He wanted to take up hotel and restaurant management in college and to become a cook at a fine dining restaurant. 

But with financial problems holding him back from pursuing his dream course, he opted to study elementary education at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines instead. 

While pursuing his degree, Villacruz taught grade school mathematics as a student-teacher in Cubao Elementary School. Despite getting licensed to teach, Villacruz pursued a completely different path and became a customer service assistant at the Pag-IBIG Fund.

I really want to help those kids na walang pang-aral, walang pang-online classes at nahihirapan sa module kasi walang magtuturo sa kanila,” Villacruz said.

(I really want to help those kids who can’t afford to go to school, who can’t afford online class, and those who are struggling with the modules because they don’t have anyone to teach them.)

He now teaches Grade 5 mathematics via Facebook live every Sunday from 11 am to 11:30 am. He tries to keep it short to make it more accessible for students struggling to connect online, and only requires students to memorize the multiplication table.

As of writing, he already tackled two topics: percentage and perimeter of shapes. Villacruz’s teaching style has gained praise online, and views of his videos are steadily increasing after a netizen tweeted about his class.

The positive response from the public has also been of great encouragement to Villacruz. “I feel wonderful kasi mas madami na nakaka-appreciate ng gawa ko,” he said.

(I feel wonderful because more people are appreciating my work.) 

Because he’s only free on weekends, he usually works on his teaching materials on Saturdays. He makes use of his old lecture plans from his teaching days and tweaks them accordingly.

His friends who teach at private and public schools are also helping him create lessons. Another friend has also pledged a bigger whiteboard for his next lecture. 

Many people have already reached out to Villacruz, asking if they could donate materials for his lessons. Instead of accepting donations, Villacruz requested they reach out to other teachers as he believed they need the help more than he does. 

“If you wish to donate [to me], please do me a favor, if you have a friend that is a teacher, or a teacher from your previous alma mater in elementary school, please donate at least a ream of bond paper. They would need it for modules,” he said. (READ: Help! These schools need bond paper, printers for students' learning modules)

Last October 5, over 24 million students attended their first day of school through a distance learning setup. A week before school opening, the Department of Education said it has not yet completed training public school teachers for the revamped distance learning approach.

When asked what he thinks of the current education situation in the country, Villacruz said the Philippines’ education system “currently is doing its best to help kids who cannot enroll in online classes.” 

However, he does admit that modules need to undergo more fact-checking and quality control. (READ: 'We're not perfect': DepEd appeals for public understanding after module blunders

Although teaching is not part of his long-term plans, Villacruz pledged to teach “until this pandemic ends.”

Villacruz implored his co-licensed teachers to help him reach out to more students during the pandemic. “Please help me do free online classes, because I cannot do it alone,” he said.  – Rappler.com

Judiel Libot is a Rappler intern.