The country remains among the few who have not reopened at least partially, raising concern in a place where many do not have computers or internet access.
MANILA - As cheering students around the world exchange online learning for classrooms, millions of children in the Philippines are staying home for the second year in a row due to pandemic, fueling concerns about the worsening education crisis in a country with spotty internet access.
President Rodrigo Duterte justified the closure of primary and secondary schools by arguing that students and their families must be protected against the coronavirus. The Philippines has one of the lowest vaccination rate in Asia, with only 16% of its population fully vaccinated, and infections withDelta variant have grown in recent months.
That makes the Philippines, with its approximately 27 million students, one of the few countries to have maintained complete school closures throughout the pandemic, joining Venezuela, according to UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Agency. Other country Those who closed schools, like Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, decided to reopen them.
"I can't bet on children's health " Mr Duterte said in June, rejecting Health Ministry recommendations to reopen schools.
The movement - which has kept nearly 2,000 schools closed - sparked a backlash among parents and students in a sprawling country Towith endemic poverty. Many people, especially in remote and rural areas, do not have access to a computer or the Internet at home for online learning.
High school student Iljon Roxas trapped at his home in Bacoor City, south of Manila, said the monotony of staring at a computer screen over the past year has made it difficult for him to concentrate, and he yearns to return. in a real classroom. The fun and joy of learning, he added, had evaporated.
"I miss a lot of things, like creating bonding with classmates during free time, ”said Iljon, 16.“ I miss my teachers too, believe it or not. Since last year we have been stuck in front of our screens - you listen, you disconnect. " Image Teachers and volunteers sort the educational materials for parents to collect at a school in Quez sur City, near Manila. Credit ... Jam Sta Rosa / Agence France-Presse - Images
The crisis in the Philippines comes as countries around the world including the United States, has experienced one of the worst disruptions to public education in modern history. Governments have strived to balance the imperative of health and safety with the public duty to educate children.
Some countries, like Britain, have taken an aggressive approach to keeping schools open, including from late spring to early spring. summer, when the varianyou Delta jumped. While many primary school students and their teachers did not wear masks, the UK government instead focused on other safety measures, such as rapid testing and widespread quarantine.
Where schools have long been closed, such as in the Philippines, education experts have expressed concern that the pandemic has created a "lost generation" of 'students, shaken by the limits of distance learning and by overwhelmed parents struggling to serve as a substitute for physics and literature teachers.
Maritess Talic , 46, a mother of two, said she feared her children had learned almost nothing in the past year. Ms Talic, who works part-time as a housekeeper, said she and her husband, a construction worker, had raised around 5,000 pesos, about $ 100, to purchase a used tablet computer to share with their children, ages 7 and 9.
But the family - who live in Imus, a suburb south of Manila - do not have constant internet access at home. They depend on prepaid internet cards that constantly run out, sometimes in the middle of the online course, Ms. Talic said. She also struggled to teach science and math to her children with her limited education.
"It 's very difficult," he said. she declared. , adding that children find it difficult to share a device. "We don't even find enough money to pay our electric bill sometimes, and now we also have to look for some extra money to pay for internet cards.
She said she understood the need to prioritize health before carer schools opened, but she feared for the future of her children. "The point is, I don't think they're learning at all, " she added. "Internet connection is sometimes too slow.
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines faced an education crisis, with rooms overcrowded classrooms, poor public school infrastructure and desperately low salaries for teachers, creating a shortage of teachers. Image Residents line up at a vaccination center in Manila on Monday. Credit ... Aaron Favila / Associated Press
A 2020 World Bank report said the country was also suffering from a digital divide. In 2018, he reported that about 57% of the estimated 23 million Filipino households did not have access to the internet. However, the government did not have access to the internet. since then has been working to close this gap. The Mayor of Manila City Francisco Domagoso , said in an interview that last year the town hall distributed 130,000 tablets for school children and some 11,000 laptops for his tea.
UNICEF said inAugust study that school closures were particularly damaging to vulnerable children, already facing the challenges of poverty and inequality. He called for the gradual reopening of schools in the country, starting in low risk areas and with strict safety protocols in place.
The closures schools have had negative consequences. for students, said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov , UNICEF representative in the Philippines. The students fell behind and reported mental distress. She also mentioned an increased risk of dropping out of school, child labor and child marriage.
While distance courses have picked up this week, Leonor Briones, the education secretary, sought to present the electronic reopening as a success. She said about 24 million children, from elementary school to high school, were enrolled in school. But she acknowledged that the number of inions was about two million fewer students than last year.
Regina Tolentino, General Secretary Assistant to the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, which represents university newspaper editors, said the government's attempt to put a positive spin on the second year of closed schools was "delusional." , poor students were forced to spend money on computers and internet cards rather than basic necessities like food. "The government must listen to students and defend their basic rights to education even during the pandemic," she said. Image A deserted school hallway. Even before the pandemic, the Philippines faced an education crisis. Credit. .. Jam Sta Rosa / Agence France-Presse - Images
But prominent doctors and health experts have said that while opening schools is an important goal, health and safety should come first.
They pointed out that just over 14 million people in the Philippines were fully vaccinated, well below the government's initial target of 70 million by year-end. Some hospitals werepacked and scenes of patients receiving oxygen in parking lots had become commonplace.
Dr. Anthony Leachon, a prominent public health expert who was a member of the government advisory group on Covid-19, called for accelerating vaccination for 12 to 17 year olds to help pave the way for schools to reopen.
"It 's dangerous," he said, "to reopen schools with the Delta variant varieties at this time. "