PhilippinesOnline learning has been the only option for the two children of Talic, a suburb of Manila, for the past two years, amid worries about costs and the Internet.
Millions of Filipino children are staying home for the second year in a row because of the pandemic, raising fears of a worsening education crisis, as internet access in the country is uneven. .
Explaining the closure of primary and secondary schools, President Rodrigo Duterte emphasized that students and their families need to be protected from the virus. The Philippines has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Asia with 16% of the population fully vaccinated and the number of Delta mutated infections has been on the rise in recent months.
This makes the Philippines, with around 27 million students, one of the very few countries that have completely closed schools during the pandemic, next to Venezuela, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Other countries that have closed schools such as Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait have moved into the reopening phase.
“I can’t bet children’s health,” President Duterte said in June, rejecting a recommendation from the Health Ministry to reopen schools.
The closure of nearly 2,000 schools has caused many difficulties for Filipino parents and students. Many people, especially those in remote or rural areas, do not have computers and Internet at home to study online.
Iljon Roxas, 16, a high school student in Bacoor city, south of Manila, said staring at a computer for the past year has made it difficult for him to concentrate. Iljon just wanted to return to the real classroom.
“I miss a lot of things, like talking with my classmates during recess,” Iljon said. “Believe it or not, but I still remember my teachers. Since last year, we’ve been stuck in front of the computer screen.”
The Philippines is not the only country in this situation. Many countries are also struggling to find a balance between ensuring public health and safety and educating children.
Some countries, like the UK, still keep schools open even as the number of infections increases sharply because of the Delta mutation. Meanwhile, in places where schools are closed for a long time like the Philippines, education experts fear that it will create a generation of students who are lost, limited in their ability to absorb or express opinions because Distance learning and parents are too hard because they have to do the professional part of the teacher.
Maritess Talic, 46, said she feared that her two children might not have learned anything during the past year. She and her husband are just ordinary manual workers with a precarious income. They had to accumulate 5,000 pesos (about 100 USD) to buy an old tablet for their two children, a 7-year-old, a 9-year-old, to study online.
But the Talics, who live in Imus, a suburb south of Manila, don’t have a stable internet connection. They pay for the internet with a prepaid card, so the data capacity sometimes runs out in the middle of two kids’ online classes. Talic also has many difficulties when teaching her children math and science because her education level is not high.
“It’s really not easy,” Talic said, adding that the two children also have difficulty sharing a tablet. “Sometimes we don’t even have enough money to pay our electricity bill, and now we have to spend more money to buy prepaid Internet cards.”
Talic understands that public health must be prioritized over opening schools, but she is very worried about the future of her children. “The problem is I don’t think they’re absorbing anything,” she said. “Internet connection is sometimes too slow”.
Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the Philippines was facing an education crisis, with overcrowded classrooms, poor infrastructure in public schools and low wages causing a severe shortage of teachers.
A report by the World Bank (WB) in 2020 said that the Philippines’ Internet coverage is also uneven. In 2018, about 57% of the country’s 23 million households had an internet connection. The government is working to improve the imbalance in digital accessibility in the community.
Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso said last year that City Hall had distributed 130,000 tablets and 11,000 laptops to support students and teachers.
UNICEF noted in August that school closures have had a particularly severe impact on vulnerable children who face challenges of poverty and inequality. They called for the opening of schools in the Philippines, starting in low-risk areas and applying strict safety procedures.
According to UNICEF Representative in the Philippines Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, school closures bring a series of consequences for students, such as the risk of mental problems, dropping out of school, having to work early or getting married.
As distance learning resumed this week, Philippine Education Secretary Leonor Briones attempted to portray it as a huge success. According to her, about 23 million children, from primary to secondary school, are enrolled. But she admits that enrollment this year is about two million fewer than last year.
Regina Tolentino, deputy secretary-general of the Association of University Press Editors of the Philippines, said it was “unrealistic” for the authorities to try to positively portray school closures for the second year in a row.
With online learning as the only option, families of poor students will have to spend a lot of money to buy computers and Internet cards, which can be used to buy necessities. “The government must listen to students and uphold their basic rights regarding education, even in times of epidemics,” she stressed.
However, leading doctors and health experts say that while reopening schools is an important goal, safety for public health still needs to be a priority.
To date, only 14 million Filipinos have been fully immunized, far below the government’s initial goal of completing vaccinations for 70 million people by the end of the year. Some hospitals are overwhelmed and the sight of patients having to breathe oxygen in the middle of a parking lot has become commonplace.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, a leading public health expert and a member of the Philippine government’s Covid-19 advisory board, urged authorities to promptly vaccinate children 12-17 years old to pave the way for reopening. schools.
“Opening schools while the Delta mutation is spreading like it is now is really dangerous,” he said.
Vu Hoang (Follow NYTimes)