Philippines among 5 countries yet to reopen schools since 2020 — UNICEF

Philippines among 5 countries yet to reopen schools since 2020 � UNICEF
Undated file photo shows sisters attending online classes at home.
The STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino children will continue missing out on learning opportunities as schools remain closed due to COVID-19, the United Nations Children's Fund has warned, as it noted the country is among five nations yet to resume physical classes since the pandemic hit.

UNICEF in a statement noted schools across the globe were closed for an average of 79 teaching days in 2020. But it said institutions in the Philippines have been shut for more than a year now. 

Other countries that have yet to decide to reopen schools are Bangladesh, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, UNICEF said.

"The associated consequences of school closures – learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations, and heightened risk of drop out, child labour, and child marriage – will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages,” said UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov.

The remarks came as the country braces for a new school year still under distance learning, which would begin on September 13.

Groups have long criticized the learning setup pushed by the Department of Education for its many difficulties. Such range from stable internet access, availability of gadgets, to errors in resources. 

Add that also to the stress felt by students and teachers that they said has affected their mental and physical wellbeing.

"As classes resume in many parts of the world, millions of first graders have been waiting to see the inside of a classroom for over a year," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. 

"Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing," she added. 

UNICEF renewed its call for a phased and safe reopening of schools, starting in areas with low virus transmission.

President Rodrigo Duterte has continued to reject the Department of Education's proposal for limited in-person classes. 

But yesterday, senators aired their dismay over what they said was the agency's lack of urgency to get Duterte's approval. 

"That rollout is still slow and pathetic, if you ask me," Sen. Pia Cayetano told a DepEd official.

The UN agency said apart from lack of learning materials, children may not be able to participate in classes from lack of support in technology, a poor learning environment, as well as factors at home.

It added studies have shown positive school experiences during children's transition period are crucial in their social, emotional, and educational outcomes in the long run.

"At the same time, children who fall behind in learning during the early years often stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school, and the gap widens over the years," UNICEF continued.

Along with the World Bank and UNSECO, the organization urged governments to prioritize three areas on reopening of schools: 

  • targeted programs to bring all chidren and youth back to school 
  • effective remedial learning to catch up on lost classes
  • and support for teachers address learning losses and incorporate digital technology in their teaching

"We must reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible," Fore said, "and we must immediately address the gaps in learning this pandemic has already created. Unless we do, some children may never catch up."

UNICEF vowed it would continue mobilizing partners and the public to campaign for reopening schools. — Christian Deiparine

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