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Business

Dropouts left behind in the pandemic

BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

One-fifth of Filipino elementary and high school students, equivalent to more than five million heads, failed to enroll for academic year 2020-2021, and will likely miss enrollment again this coming school year 2021-2022 as pandemic uncertainties continue to plague normal life.

The Department of Education (DepEd) must come up with extraordinary measures to go after and bring back these children and young adults to the learning cycle to prevent any distortions on the country’s future social and economic fiber.

This alarming number of new dropouts caused by the pandemic exacerbates an already existing high number of out-of-school youths which had been estimated at 3.5 million in 2017. Looking at the task ahead, it may be easier to bring back early grade dropouts to school, but not so those who are in their teens.

Even before the pandemic, the problem of school delinquency has been a major issue. Many of the children who fail to return to basic education were often constrained by reduced family incomes despite public education being free.

The rate of early school dropouts somehow eased with the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) where poor parents are incentivized to keep their youngsters in school through monetary dole outs.

However, children of the “new poor,” those economically affected by the pandemic lockdowns, are not beneficiaries of the 4Ps. While tuition fees are waived for children going to public schooling, miscellaneous expenses could still be a drag.

Special interventions

For basic education learners who will suffer a missed year or two in learning, special interventions will be needed to allow them to catch up with their peers when they do return to classrooms. Identifying who missed out the last academic year is important, but getting them back in the coming school cycles should be prioritized.

While the DepEd extended the enrollment deadline last year to August, a much more liberal approach must be undertaken to accommodate dropouts who failed to comply with the pandemic’s delayed school registration deadline.

With public schools to close in a few weeks, “catch-up” classes for dropouts can be introduced during the summer break to entice and prepare them for the 2020-2021 reintegration into formal schooling, even if it is still going to be under a blended learning system.

Dropouts should be encouraged and allowed to sign up on any school day to be part of special catch-up curriculum. The objective is make it easier for them to return to school work even if they will have to graduate elementary school one or two years late.

DepEd can once more scour its financial and human resource reserves and come up with the logistical and teaching support needed. This can include widening the on-the-job training program of student teachers to fill in the teaching gap.

More vulnerable

As a rule, the older K-to-12 learners will find it more difficult to return to school after dropping out. Last year’s pandemic has added a new reason for them to stay away from graduating junior or senior high school.

Before the pandemic, most teens dropping out from school were largely those disinterested in learning. Many were forced to get menial jobs for lack of a diploma to help support the family – or a new one because of a newly born child.

This year, after months of reduced earnings, families can barely afford to put food on their table. Such dire reason has pushed many of those in intermediate schooling to contribute their worth to earning some money to defray part of their families’ basic needs, such as rent and utilities.

The economic pressures on them will likely be extended until the household income returns to pre-pandemic normal, by which time the desire to acquire a high school diploma will have been forever lost by other distractions.

Teen dropouts will require a more holistic approach by government, involving perhaps access to evening or weekend schooling, and expanded technical-vocational learning programs. The earlier these are introduced, the better for affected teens to gain more skills or knowledge, and consequently equip them for higher-paying jobs.

Booster jab

A recent Hong Kong study has bared that a third booster jab may be needed for those that had received the Sinovac vaccine, compared to that of Pfizer-BioNTech. This should be relevant to the Philippines, which has to date received more of the Sinovac vaccines than any brand.

The HK government had commissioned a track of antibody responses on 1,000 people who received either vaccine. Those who were vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech had “substantially higher” levels of antibodies than those who received China’s Sinovac shots.

The study noted that the findings are consistent with phase-three clinical trials where Pfizer-BioNTech reported a 95 percent efficacy rate, while Sinovac’s was at 50.7 percent.

While the level of antibodies does not directly relate to immunity, the report cited increasing evidence that high levels of antibodies generally reflect greater immunity against infection. More importantly, it meant that the period of protection was longer.

Hong Kong is now seriously considering adopting antibody testing, together with the standard COVID-19 swabs, as a way of shortening quarantine restrictions of most inbound travellers, more so those who are recognized as fully vaccinated.

The results of the study would likely support earlier plans by HK health officials to procure additional “booster” vaccine supplies to lengthen the protection period of vaccinated people, especially those who acquired lower antibody counts.

There should be other studies undertaken to validate this Hong Kong study that shows the need for a booster shot after getting a Sinovac vaccine lest this be construed as marketing ploy to favor non-Chinese vaccines.

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We are actively using two social networking websites to reach out more often and even interact with and engage our readers, friends and colleagues in the various areas of interest that I tackle in my column. Please like us on www.facebook.com/ReyGamboa and follow us on www.twitter.com/ReyGamboa.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at [email protected]. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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