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DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

With the Delta variant of COVID on a rampage in many places worldwide and NCR on GCQ again, it isn’t likely that students will troop back to physical schools for face-to-face instruction in September. That’s bad news for the education and the mental health of our young people.

For all practical purposes, we already have to write off one year in the education of our children due to the pandemic lockdowns. Don’t even consider online education because that is a cruel joke.

The millions of students forced into online and module-based learning since March last year most likely learned nothing. The World Bank has called on authorities to allow students to go back to school, saying the quality of learning is lower for distance learning platforms.

Forget the public statements of DepEd about successfully migrating to an online learning platform in public schools. Reports have it that only two percent conducted classes online, 8.7 percent did blended learning, while 87.4 percent relied on printed modules.

Thousands of public schools do not have internet connection or even electricity.

But even in the United States, online classes have been a challenge. My daughter who teaches Grade 2 in a California public school told me that it had been a big challenge. She is back to teaching face-to-face once more since April.

Then, too, kids that age need a lot of adult supervision and help which their parents find difficult to give because they are busy at work or are not fluent in English. It is the kids from more well-off families, who already do well in school, who are also able to get help from better educated parents.

In other words, going online aggravated the social class divide and made it more difficult for kids from poorer families to catch up.

The other problem has to do with the attention span of kids in grade school. Even my grandson, who enthusiastically went to his Grade 3 class, found it extremely difficult to concentrate and keep still in front of the computer at home.

The problem with online school is that children learn vastly less than they do in person.

According to the New York Times, “Rand Corporation, a research group, found that students attending remote classes learned less English, math, and science than students attending in-person school.

“An analysis by Opportunity Insights, a group based at Harvard, found that student achievement lagged with remote learning – and lagged the most for lower-income students.

“A study in the Netherlands found that ‘students made little or no progress while learning from home.’

“Remote schooling, in other words, may be more akin to dropping out than it is to attending in-person school.”

No wonder educators in the US are urging a return to the classroom. Health officials are saying it is safe to do so provided some precautions are observed.

“Many education experts say in-person instruction is the best way to help hasten an academic recovery for those who fell behind and to address emotional and social consequences after two disrupted school years,” Erin Richards of USA Today has written.

In fairness to DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones, she is eager to take the initial steps to go back to the classroom, but President Duterte does not want to take the risk.

Perhaps, Sec. Liling should try to convince the President harder. At the very least, there shouldn’t be one rule for the entire country.

There are places like Batanes, with a low number of COVID cases, but still prohibited from doing in-person classes. Yet, doing online classes in Batanes is almost impossible because of the extremely lousy broadband signal there.

Considering the very alarming report of how our public school students are unable to learn the competencies required of them in their grade level even before COVID, they will be truly left behind if we continue to pretend that online classes are sufficient for them.

Even the UNICEF expressed concern over the costs of continued COVID-19 school closures for reasons other than education.

“The longer students are out of the classroom, the less likely they are to return – and the higher the risk of child labor, child marriage, early pregnancy, violence and abuse. Children must resume in-person learning as soon as possible.”

The New York Times reports that “new research suggests that by September, most students will have fallen behind... with some losing the equivalent of a full school year’s worth of academic gains.

“… socioeconomic achievement gaps will most likely widen because of disparities in access to computers, home internet connections, and direct instruction from teachers…”

It is the same problem here. Even before the pandemic, homeschooling had been a growing fad among some higher income families, notably those from evangelical groups. The COVID restrictions on in-school classes do not affect them.

Two or three families would organize home-based classes for their young children by hiring a teacher to guide the kids through the lesson plans. But for ordinary families, the only option for education is the public classroom.

The other big consideration is the impact of online schooling on the mental health of students. Young adults need social interaction in their formative years. Kids need play dates with other kids their age to learn how to socialize.

With the lack of interaction, students face social isolation. This leads to feelings of loneliness and lack of motivation, even a will to live.

I have heard reports of child psychiatrists and psychologists in Metro Manila getting an overflow of young patients suffering mental distress from the COVID lockdowns. Some cases are serious enough to worry parents about their children hurting themselves.

Hopefully, Sec. Briones is now able to convince Duterte that the risk of going back to the classroom, even on an experimental basis, is worth it. Then again, an uptick of Delta variant cases may doom any thought of going back to the classroom.

We must simply outsmart the virus so we can live normal lives. One rule for everyone does not work. We should look at local circumstances and allow less affected areas to get back to the classroom.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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