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Youths are out of school, or not learning in class

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 12, 2021 - 12:00am

The happy Filipino family may not mind what’s happening to the children. The eldest is forgoing college to drive a tricycle and add food on the table. The second becomes pregnant at age 15. The youngest attends grade school but hardly learns anything from online classes.

There’s an education crisis. And society’s merry existence is hand-to-mouth, with no attention to the youth’s future. Yet lives will be drearier tomorrow precisely due to poor education today.

The problem of education is access and quality. More than 2.7 million students dropped out this school year due to the pandemic. That’s compared to pre-pandemic enrollment in public and private elementary and high schools, and state colleges and universities. Many parents lost livelihoods due to the COVID-19 lockdowns. Children have had to move from costly private to free public schools. Still 10.88 percent of learners left altogether.

One reason is lack of means for distance learning, says Love Basillote, executive director of the NGO Philippine Business for Education. Health protocols prevent face-to-face classes for the present 25 million enrollees. Yet only 1.9 million have laptops, 6.2 million have smartphones and 3.6 have televisions. Despite simultaneous online class hours, siblings must take turns with the home gadgets. And WiFi connection can be spotty.

Asynchronous learning may not always work. Students can choose when to turn on to certain subjects. But for grade schoolers there’s no substitute for teacher’s attention. Most parents have no knack or time for home tutoring.

It may be time to return to face-to-face classes, says Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian. Experiences elsewhere can be studied. Education Sec. Leonor Briones envies the counter-pandemic measures in Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. There, schoolchildren were enabled to regroup as early as July-August 2020.

Take the cue from the US Centers for Disease Control, Gatchalian advises authorities. The CDC sees “little evidence” of coronavirus contagion from in-person instruction. More so in regions with low infection rates. Gatchalian cites a CDC report on 11 North Carolina school districts where 90,000 students and staff returned to school last fall. Only 32 infections were school-acquired, zero cases of students-to-staff transmission compared to 773 from communities. Scandinavia opened grade and high schools in mid-2020. Take note, Department of Education, Commission on Higher Education and Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Even before the pandemic, the dropout rate was already high. Citing older DepEd and CHEd data, Sen. Sonny Angara counts close to four million out-of-school youths. Among the OSYs are those who should be in college or technical skills training but are not. They work odd jobs if not bumming around. Females are vulnerable to prostitution and human trafficking. Angara has a bill to identify and entice them to free college and vocational-technical training. CHEd and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority can put them in programs that will increase their incomes.

The vulnerability can be seen in the alarming rate of teenage pregnancies. Seven girls aged 14 and younger are giving birth everyday, according to the Commission on Population. The figure jumped seven percent compared to 2010 and has been going on for nine years. Early motherhood takes the girls away from school.

Even if in school, learning is persistently low. Basillote cites the performance of Filipino students in international assessments. Those in Grade 4 came out last among 64 countries in the 2019 tests by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Grade 5 students were in the bottom half of the 2019 Southeast Asia Primary Learning Metrics. And 15-year-olds were last in Reading and second to the last in Math and Science out of 78 countries in the 2018 tests of the Program for International Student Assessment.

Students do not learn as much as they should in Grades 1 to 12. With the World Bank, PBEd discovered that Grade 12 graduates learned only the equivalent of 8.4 years of schooling. “Basically, they learned nothing in four years,” Basillote laments. The pandemic may have worsened that to only 7.6 “learning adjusted years of schooling.” Learning loss is directly proportionate to prolonged school break due to the pandemic.

Future incomes are affected. Again with the World Bank, PBEd calculated potential income loss due to pandemic school closure, based on 2018 per capita. If average income per person then was $8,000 (P400,000) per year, it can drop to $7,500 (P350,000).

Malnutrition causes poor learning. One in three students under age five is undernourished and thus unready to learn. They are the so-called “putot, payat (runt, emaciated).” School feeding programs for them have been suspended by remote learning.

The youth are the future of the motherland, Filipinos always say. Yet funds for their education are insufficient. Other countries devote four to six percent of annual GDPs to the effort. The Philippines did that only once this decade.

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Paperback copies of “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” can be delivered to you by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. To order: GOTCHA by Jarius Bondoc | Shopee Philippines

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