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Filipino kids missing education opportunities amid school closure, says UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Wednesday urged governments to resume in-person classes, noting that five countries, including the Philippines, have yet to reopen their schools since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, UNICEF said the right to learn of 27 million Filipino students has been affected by the continued closure of schools.

“While new variants are causing a rise of infections, UNICEF is advocating for a phased reopening of schools, beginning in low-risk areas,” the group said.

“This can be done on a voluntary basis with proper safety protocols in place,” it added.

Last school year, when the classes started on October 5, 2020 in the Philippines, the total number of enrollees was recorded at 24.7 million.

The Department of Education (DepEd) said this was only 89% of the total enrollment during the School Year 2019-2020.

Also last school year, around 398,000 students from private schools transferred to public schools amid the pandemic, according to the DepEd.

Citing a new analysis after the summer break in many parts of the world, UNICEF said that the first day of school for 140 million students has been delayed amid COVID-19, which it said affects learning.

The group said the first grade sets up the building blocks for all future learning and is when in-person learning helps children gain independence, adapt to new routines, and develop relationships.

UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov said the Philippine schools were fully closed for over a year, while schools globally only for around 79 days in 2020.

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

Remote learning

With the long closure of schools, Dendevnorov said students were forced to enroll in distance learning modalities. However, remote learning failed to reach 29% of primary students, the organization said.

“In addition to lack of assets for remote learning, the youngest children may not be able to participate due to a lack of support using the technology, a poor learning environment, pressure to do household chores, or being forced to work,” it added.

UNICEF also pointed out that the delays in learning can affect the future earning of the students.

Citing the World Bank, UNICEF said around $10 trillion loss in earnings is estimated over time for this entire generation of students.

It added that the cost of resolving learning gaps are lower and more effective when they are addressed earlier, and that investment in education supports economic recovery, growth and prosperity.

“UNICEF urges governments to reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students,” it said.

UNICEF with the World Bank and UNESCO is calling for the government to prioritize the following points for recovery in schools:

  • Targeted programs to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs;
  • Effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning;
  • Support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching.

In a Senate hearing earlier this week, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno Malaluan said the government's COVID-19 task force has already approved the joint DepEd-Department of Health guidelines for the conduct of limited face-to-face classes in areas classified as low-risk for COVID-19.

However, this is subject to the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte.   —KBK, GMA News