Learning Crisis

Learning Crisis

Resuming face-to-face classes without a vaccine for Covid-19 spells disaster.

— President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

AT least 50 public schools in Central Visayas are ready to hold in-person classes, according to a recommendation by the Department of Education (DepEd) office in the region—however, there is no timeline yet as to when classes can start.

The fact is that it will be up to The DepEd’s central office and President Rodrigo Duterte for the approval of this recommendation.

Among the requirements for a school to be allowed to hold in-person classes are classroom design, availability of health protocol, as well as recommendations from the Department of Health, local governments, school divisions, and parent-teacher association, among others.

When Covid-19 shut schools across the world down, few imagined that more than a year later millions of children would still be stuck at home.

And although school closures have been far and wide, the experience has been anything but universal for pupils, parents, or their teachers.

In the Philippines, parents in Manila were initially told their children would need to home-school for the rest of the school year. More than a year later, a mother-of-two is only now beginning to see an end in sight.

“It has taken a toll on both my husband’s and my own mental health,” the 41-year-old reveals. “We joke that almost all of our income now goes to groceries and therapy bills.”

While concern about her children’s learning was initially high, as the months went on, her focus shifted towards the mental health of her children, aged 8 and 10.

“I admit to not realizing exactly how much support, not only academic but also physical and emotional, the school provided my kids. Having consistent childcare has been the biggest struggle, and the unpredictability of each day has definitely ramped up my own anxiety in unhealthy ways each day,” she enthused.

Schools across the country still haven’t opened their doors to students. The same can be said in many countries, like thousands of miles away in South America–a continent that has seen more school closures than anywhere else in the world.

Carolina, 40, lives at home in Caloocan City with her 16-year-old son Arturo. Schools there had closed since last year and plans to reopen began in January this year.

But with several mutated Covid-19 variants emerging in the country, closures have been maintained until now.

“I suffered a lot initially and needed therapy twice a week,” Carolina says. “My son felt very sad, and his school didn’t offer enough support.”

She became so unhappy with the quality of her son’s remote learning that she pulled him out of class and enrolled him in a private school. However, Carolina knows her experience is not one shared by most families in Metro Manila.

“I’m a privileged, middle-class woman,” she says, “there are countless poor and under-educated mothers who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.”

She says she is certain the pandemic has “only exacerbated the learning inequality that already existed”.

UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children worldwide, says one in three children in the Philippines have received “poor quality” distance learning.

On average, Filipino children have lost nearly four times more days of schooling than in other parts of the world.

A severe lack of digital infrastructure across the archipelago has had a catastrophic impact on children in the poorest households, with many having no way to access remote classes, says another mother.

Slightly more than 48 percent of homes in the country have a computer and only 36 percent have basic access to the internet. In comparison, neighboring southeast Asian countries have more than 95 percent of households that have internet access.

As a result, teachers have been forced to become increasingly creative in a bid to keep their students from falling behind.

“I’ve heard countless stories of teachers going out of the way to support their students. Some even traveling house-to-house, sometimes for miles, to offer them some semblance of learning,” says the mother of two.

And it is not just teachers who are being pushed to get creative.

Still, with limited internet access, the government is trying to bridge the digital divide with television and radio broadcasts in an attempt to reduce the number of children falling behind.

When Covid-19 struck, thousands of children were cut off from the outside world without the means to continue their education.

When the pandemic hit, resources were redirected from face-to-face visits and replaced with acquiring mobile phones and computers for hundreds of the most vulnerable. This allowed rehabilitation sessions to continue remotely.

But with resources stretched, the program has been forced to turn its attention to those considered most at-risk.

But there is hope, says United Nations International Children’s Educational Fund (UNICEF) executive director Henrietta Fore, who added that the unprecedented global crisis has created a unique opportunity that could see the lives of millions of children transformed.

“Around the world, we have seen inspiring examples of teachers, students, parents, and governments adopting innovative new ways of learning. We must capitalize on this thirst for transformation,” Fore noted.

“Through new approaches, we can and will reach the hundreds of millions of children who have never had education or are contending with poor-quality instruction. This will ultimately help us build strong, sustainable economies. This moment is now,” she said. (AI/MTVN)

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