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Disadvantaged

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 it is the opinion of the United Nations Children’s Fund that the prolonged closure has infringed on the right to learn of more than 27 million Filipino students.

UNICEF Philippines representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said schools globally were fully closed for 79 teaching days on average, but schools in the country have been closed for more than a year already. The four other countries yet to reopen schools are Bangladesh, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

“The associated consequences of school closures – learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, heightened risk of dropout, child labor and marriage – will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages,” Dendevnorov said in a statement.

The National Economic and Development Authority said a wider learning gap between the rich and poor students as a result of the shift to virtual classes was more worrisome than the trillion-peso losses from school closures. Citing a 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 March 2020, and have remained closed since. The inadequacy of the government response thus far led to failed attempts at returning to in-person classes and the emergence of the highly transmissible Delta variant would seem like Filipino school kids will still be stuck at home, going through various forms of remote learning for another school year.

At the Senate hearing on the Department of Education’s preparations for the coming school year, the agency’s lack of urgency annoyed senators Pia Cayetano and Nancy Binay, who both said they were not seeing its efforts in ensuring that students could safely return to school.

To be fair to Filipino school children, they are not the only sector being allowed to lag behind while the rest of the world charts their way to recovery from the pandemic. The ineffectiveness of the government’s brute force approach, coupled with our leaders’ lack of urgency and generally defeatist attitude to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, has put the entire country as among the most disadvantaged in the planet.

What will it take for Filipinos from all walks of life to experience the return to the normalcy already being enjoyed by other countries?*

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