Unicef points out effects of missing in-person classes on Filipino kids
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is among only five countries in the world that have not resumed in-person classes since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year, and the prolonged closure has infringed on the right to learn of more than 27 million Filipino students, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said on Wednesday.
According to Unicef Philippines representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, on average, schools globally were fully closed for 79 teaching days but schools in the Philippines have been closed for more than a year already.
“The associated consequences of school closures — learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of dropout, child labor, and child marriage — will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages,” Dendevnorov said in a statement.
The four other countries yet to reopen schools are Bangladesh, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said a wider learning gap between rich and poor students as a result of the conduct of virtual classes was more worrisome than the trillion-peso losses from school closures.
Citing the Unicef report and that of the United Nations Development Program, Neda said “remote education may worsen inequality as some households have limited access to reliable internet and necessary devices.”
Philippine schools stopped in-person classes shortly after the pandemic was declared in April 2020, and have been closed since.
On Wednesday at the hearing of the Senate committee on basic education, culture, and the arts, the Department of Education (DepEd) admitted that it had yet to present to President Rodrigo Duterte a proposal for limited in-person classes in 100 public schools.
The DepEd implemented remote learning in the school year 2020-2021 — and will continue to do so in the next school year that opens on Sept. 13 — but at least 1.1 million Filipino students remained out of school due to the demands of the new setup.
Recognizing that in-person classes ensured a higher quality of education than remote learning, the DepEd proposed the pilot implementation of classes in December 2020.
Duterte approved the proposal but changed his mind following the emergence of the UK COVID-19 variant. With the highly transmissible Delta variant, he reiterated that in-person classes would not resume.
But Unicef advocated a “phased reopening of schools,” beginning in areas seen as low-risk for COVID-19 infection on a voluntary basis with safety protocols in place.
It urged all governments worldwide to implement back-to-school programs where children have better access to services aimed at meeting learning, health, and psychosocial well-being, among other needs.
It also called for support for teachers to help address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching, as well as the conduct of effective remedial learning to help students catch up.
Describing the first day of school as “a landmark moment in a child’s life,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said millions of Grade 1 students globally had been waiting to see a classroom for more than a year.
“Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing,” she said.
Unicef said a child’s Grade 1 education set up the “building blocks” for all future learning, including introductions to reading, writing, and math.
“It’s also a period when in-person learning helps children gain independence, adapt to new routines, and develop meaningful relationships with teachers and students,” Unicef said.
1.1 M out of school
In the Philippines, 26.6 million students enrolled in public and private schools in school year 2020-2021.
The DepEd had called the remote learning classes a “victory” over the pandemic even as at least 1.1 million students failed to enroll due to lack of internet access among other reasons.
But Unicef said the youngest children may not be able to enroll in school due to a lack of support in technology, a poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores, or being forced to work.
Citing studies, it said children’s positive experiences in primary school were a predictor of their future social, emotional and educational outcomes, and those who fall behind in learning during their early years “stay behind for the remaining time they spend in schools, and the gap widens over the years.”
Neda cited estimates of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank showing that the economy incurred P1.9 trillion in losses for every year that schools were closed.
“The protracted duration of remote learning will have a significant effect on the learning outcomes of children and on the economy as a whole, “ Neda said.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Chua has long been pushing for the gradual return to in-person classes in low-risk areas to minimize learning poverty — or the inability of 10-year-olds to read or understand a simple story.
Early this month, Chua said the government was worried about the pandemic’s deep scarring effects, especially on poverty reduction, joblessness, hunger, health, and diseases, as well as on the education sector.
In May, the Washington-based World Bank urged the Philippine government to allow in-person classes for students whose parents consented, citing the additional 1.6 million children who did not enroll due to the pandemic.
But those who enrolled, the World Bank said, “faced many challenges to effective learning under the current distance-learning modality,” especially those from poor households who lacked internet and mobile equipment.
At the Senate hearing on the DepEd’s preparations for the coming school year, Sen. Pia Cayetano said the pilot study on in-person classes should have been done “months ago.”
“Let us not delude ourselves that this is working,” Cayetano said in reference to the current remote learning setup.
In December 2020, the DepEd nominated 1,114 public schools in Calabarzon (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon) as well as Eastern Visayas for inclusion in the pilot study.
But in the DepEd’s latest consultation with the Department of Health, this was reduced to just 100 schools in view of public health and safety risks, as well as the Delta variant, according to Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan.
The apparent “lack of urgency” in the DepEd annoyed Cayetano and Sen. Nancy Binay, who both said they were not seeing its efforts in ensuring that students could safely return to school.
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