As jubilant students around the world swap Zoom lessons for classrooms, millions of children in the Philippines are staying home for the second year in a row, stoking concerns over the worsening education crisis in the country.
The country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, justified the closure of primary and secondary schools, arguing that students and their families must be protected against the coronavirus. The pandemic has increased in recent months as the country grapples with the Delta variant. The Philippines has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Asia, with just 16 percent of its population fully vaccinated.
“I can’t bet on the health of children,” Duterte said in June.
The education ministry has put aside plans to reopen nearly 2,000 schools, causing backlash among parents and students in a sprawling country with endemic poverty. Many people, especially in remote and rural areas, do not have access to a computer or the Internet at home.
Maritess Talic, 46, a mother of two, said she feared her children had barely learned anything in the past year. Ms Talic, who works part-time as a housekeeper, said that she and her husband, a construction worker, had raised around 5,000 pesos, or about $ 100, to buy a second-hand computer tablet to share with children aged 7 and 9. But the family – who live in Imus, a working-class suburb south of Manila, the capital – do not have dedicated internet access at home.
She said prepaid internet cards were constantly depleted, sometimes in the midst of her children’s online classes. She said she struggled to teach them science and math with her limited education.
“It’s very difficult,” she said, adding that children find it difficult to share a device. “Sometimes we can’t even find enough money to pay our electricity bill, and now we also have to look for extra money to pay for internet cards.
“The point is, I don’t think they’re learning at all,” she added. “The Internet connection is sometimes too slow. “
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines faced an education crisis, with overcrowded classrooms, shoddy public school infrastructure and desperately low salaries for teachers, creating a teacher shortage.
The crisis in the Philippines comes as countries around the world, including the United States, grapple with one of the worst disruptions to public education in modern history.
UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, said in an August study that the Philippines was among a handful of countries that had not started face-to-face classes since the start of the pandemic. , violating the right of over 27 million students to have access to classroom instruction.
School closures have had negative consequences for students, said Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, UNICEF representative in the Philippines. The students fell behind and reported mental distress. He also cited an increased risk of dropping out of school, child labor and child marriage.