Every idled child today to lose P750,000 tomorrow
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - September 16, 2020 - 12:00am

$15,000 or P750,000. That’s how much future income every child will lose from seven months’ school closure, the World Bank computes. May those shouting to further push back school opening to January 2021 consider that (link to the WB study below).

School has been out too long since March. Two postponements of resumption, in June and August, slowed schoolchildren’s pace. Learning loss is real. A child can forget in a usual two-month school break up to half the skills imbibed during the previous grade. That’s why the first few weeks of the new school year are devoted to reviewing back subjects. Any more delay of back-to-school from Oct. 5 would mean more vanished learning – and concomitant catch-up time. It would be like repeating the previous grade over again. Yet the proponents of longer “Walang Pasok” till next year want a mass promotion of all learners to the next level. What does that solve?

Income loss from prolonged school closure is real too. Analyses have been made of students’ forced homestays during World War II up to 40 years into their future. Income slides were noted among those who lost formal schooling. “When children lose out on education, they lose out on future opportunities,” WB reports. “That includes economic benefits, such as additional earnings, with far-reaching consequences.”

The Economist extrapolates the $15,000 future loss per child from the WB assumptions. It takes into account the seven months so far that schools have stayed closed in countries that are poorly prepared to reopen. For Filipinos, that’s P750,000, at P50:$1. That’s the cost of a modest house. Or a superior college education. Those two – one’s own home and children’s good schooling – are the great Filipino dreams.

Of 192 countries that UNESCO counted to have closed schools in April, richer ones have recalled students and teachers. Others are following suit. Among ASEAN’s ten members, says Education Sec. Leonor Briones, only the Philippines has yet to resume classes. Having restarted as early as May, Singaporean students already are preparing for November’s high school and college qualifying exams. Sadly, says a recent study, Filipinos have the lowest average IQ in ASEAN.

“If schools stay closed for seven months from March this year... and governments fail to compensate, children could lose the equivalent of an eighth of their years of schooling,” The Economist takes off from WB estimates. “Lifetime earnings per pupil could fall by more than $15,000 (adjusted for purchasing-power parity). The (proportion of students) who fail to meet proficiency standards in Reading and Math could rise from 53 percent to 68 percent. The education interruption will worsen income inequality in the world’s most unequal regions.” It’s a silent crisis, WB education expert Emanuela di Gropello laments.

The PISA-2018 test results were most telling. Of 79 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment, Filipino 15-year-olds were lowest in Reading Comprehension and second lowest in Math and Sciences. Tens of thousands of Filipinos participated. Test scores of students from well-off families were high, but the overall rating was pulled down by the majority from poor ones. Filipinos must get out of that rut.

Rich families were not to be left behind during the pandemic lockdowns. They enrolled children in online advanced and review classes in Math and Sciences, even in arts and music. The poor, with no gadgets and WiFi, were at the losing end.

The latter have grown in number. More than 800 private learning institutions have had to close shop, from low enrollment since June. With 47 percent of Filipinos losing livelihoods due to the health crisis, parents moved their children to public schools. Even then, three million expected enrollees in the latter did not show up, Briones says. Those are youngsters who were forced to work to augment family incomes. Or, their families have been devastated by hunger, relocation, deaths, separations or surrender.

Parents, teachers and policymakers still will disallow face-to-face classes. All pin their hopes on a vaccine, assuming it will work against coronavirus mutations. To fill the learning gap, the Dept. of Education will use mostly printed modules. Home learning is preferred by two of every three parents, over online and radio-TV. Printed lessons will be handed out to each student every week. That requires dozens of duplicating machines, tons of paper and pails of ink per schoolhouse. Government must fund it. NGOs, civic and church groups can help.

In locales where officials are earnest, all modes can be blended. They have distributed free gadgets and reloadable pocket WiFi to poor schoolchildren. Let them all restart school on Oct. 5 despite remaining kinks. Those can be ironed out along the way. Most important is to restart, for the children’s sake.

Education is one of the most important drivers in human capital investment, WB says. It cannot stop.

(See “The Covid-19 Cost of School Closures – World Bank”: https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/covid-19-cost-school-closures)

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