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Spiderman to Green Lantern, Bolivian schoolteacher dresses up for virtual classes

Manolo Villarroel, an art teacher, dresses up as superheroes for the locked down students who attend his virtual classes.

By: AP | La Paz | June 15, 2020 1:10:28 pm
Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news Art teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel poses for a photo next to his superhero costumes. Villarroel makes the costumes he wears. (Picture credit: AP)

Sometimes, Jorge Manolo Villarroel is Spiderman. Sometimes, he’s the Flash or the Green Lantern.

But he’s always a teacher — one who lives out his childhood dreams by dressing up as superheroes for the locked-down students who attend his virtual classes.

His classes have become so popular that siblings fight for the laptop screen to learn from this costumed teacher. They, in turn, often offer him tech help.“They arrive at the virtual classes before me and the first surprise is to guess which superhero will appear on the screen,” said Villarroel.

Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news Art teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel, wearing a Spider-Man costume, teaches an online class from his home, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in La Paz, Bolivia. (Picture credit: AP)

At 33, Villarroel speaks with the passion of a child. His modest room is filled with the masks and costumes of his characters, along with images of Christ, several Roman Catholic saints, revolutionary Che Guevara and his parents.

Villarroel, who lives in a poorer neighbourhood of the Bolivian capital, teaches art at the San Ignacio Catholic School in a wealthier area. His students range from 9 to 14 years old.

“Hey, teacher! You have to anchor the image … Go to the screen of your cellphone and look for a small one,” a student told Villarroel; the teacher, dressed as the Flash, explained to his youngest students how to put together a mosaic of geometric figures using coloured leaves.

Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news The superhero masks of The Flash and Captain America sit on top on of art supplies that teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel uses to impart online classes from his home, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in La Paz, Bolivia. (Picture credit: AP)

“For years, they have entered our adult world, now it’s time for us to open up to their world, which chats,” he said. “When they speak they can be limited, but in the chat they expand, they become the teachers and show me applications.”

The class begins with a Zumba-style warm-up (Villarroel is also a Zumba instructor), followed by a prayer and then superhero music, to set the proper atmosphere.

Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news The superhero costumes that teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel uses to impart online classes from his home, hang on a wall amid the new coronavirus pandemic in La Paz, Bolivia. (Picture credit: AP)

Forty-five students follow online classes. Villarroel himself makes the costumes he wears. “I had to improvise since with the quarantine I couldn’t get out.”

At times, with his glasses, he looks as much like a disc jockey in front of a computer as a superhero. His tiny dog Coquito sleeps obliviously on his lap.

Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news Art teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel, wearing a Spider-Man costume, teaches an online class from his home, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in La Paz, Bolivia. (Picture credit: AP)

“Education stagnated in traditional moulds. After the pandemic everything will change, including education,” he said.
Many schools, especially private ones like Villarroel’s, have been teaching online since March.

But in Bolivia, the poorest country in South America, the internet is slow, expensive and available only in large cities and towns. In many poor rural areas, electricity is only just arriving and television still relatively new.

Bolivia, School teacher, Online classes, Virtual classes, Superheroes, Spiderman, Green Lantern, COVID-19, Coronavirus, Trending news, Indian Express news Art teacher Jorge Manolo Villarroel, wearing a Batman costume, poses for a photo at his home during one of his online classes, amid the new coronavirus pandemic, in La Paz, Bolivia. 

Some complain that virtual classes are only available to those who have the money to buy a computer or cell phone,
worsening the country’s already large spread between the rich and poor.

“Even in my private school there are children who do not have a good cell phone,” Villarroel acknowledged. “But we are in a time of change.”

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