Calls for an academic break have been intensifying following the reimposition and extension of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in areas collectively known as National Capital Region (NCR)-plus.
#AcademicBreakNow and #AcademicEaseNow have been trending as netizens urge the government – particularly the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) – to declare school break in both basic and higher education levels amid the surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country.
On Twitter, user with handle @Itsmejc_tano said, “Sorry, but, I don’t think it’s ethical to continue the classes amidst the havoc of incompetence and pandemic. I don’t think it’s ethical to force people to provide money for distance learning while they can hardly provide some for living.”
@Michell86268249 could not help but call out DepEd: “I don’t know why people are mad to students who are experiencing depression, anxiety and other problems while at home and must still do school works. Do not be blind @DepEd_PH. Do you think we’ll ask this without any reason?”
Meanwhile, @iskayplekss asked: “ano pa ba hinihintay ng DepEd at CHED? Na mas lumobo pa ang dami ng kaso ng mga tao na may COVID-19? Sobra-sobra na po ang hirap na dinaranas ngayon ng sambayanang Pilipino, konting puso at malasakit naman dyan”
@Qwerty_tired00 and @Phia_dbg simply said: “HINDI NA PO NAMIN KAYA” and “Please hear us DepEd Were physically mentally tired now.…” – both tagging @DepEd_PH.
Youth groups, student councils, faculty organizations, and teachers’ groups have also been renewed their calls on the government to implement an academic break.
This, they noted, would give students and their families “time and space to breathe” as the country continues to grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 for over a year now.
Due to the spike of COVID-19 cases in the country, some colleges and universities have declared suspension of classes – particularly those under the NCR-plus.
Some higher education institutions (HEIs) also announced academic breaks.
#AcademicBreakNow needs ‘careful’ study
For Education Secretary Leonor Briones, the decision whether or not an academic break should be implemented needs careful consideration.
Briones, in a phone interview, told the Manila Bulletin that the agency is aware of such calls for #AcademicBreak and #AcademicEase. “We continue to monitor what is happening – we meet with our regional and schools division officials regularly and we get updates,” she added.
While DepEd recognizes the challenges experienced by students under distance learning, Briones said that the possibility of implementing an academic break – especially for students at the basic education level – should carefully considered.
“We will have to study this further,” she noted – adding that academic ease measures have been in place for students at the basic education level since last year and that students just had their Holy Week break.
While measures are supposedly in place to help students who are struggling with their studies, groups like the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) urged DepEd to implement “genuine” academic ease to “relieve learners and teachers of burdensome distance learning expenses and unreasonable workload and study load.”
Dangers of prolonged school closures
Prolonged absence in school, Briones said, will result to serious implications for children. “They are will be further left behind especially as some countries have resumed face-to-face classes,” she added.
When schools abruptly closed in 2020, it took seven months before millions of students went back to formal schooling. Classes in public schools nationwide started on Oct. 5 after two postponements due to health situation in the country.
“We are trying to be responsive to what they are experiencing during the transition but this is a matter of children not doing well – their health is affected as they struggle with self-identity issues,” she added.
Advocacy group Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), meanwhile, warned that prolonged school closures will be “disastrous for the country” both for the education system and the economy.
Citing a World Bank report, PBEd noted that the the COVID-19 pandemic – which has forced countries to implement distance learning – caused “massive learning losses for students.”
PBEd said that in the Philippines, the learning-adjusted years of schooling (LAYS) – a measure of the actual number of years students learn in school – dropped between 5.9-6.5 years from the 7.5 initially recorded before the pandemic.
“This means out of the 12 years Filipino students spend in the basic education system, they only learn for about a half of the total time they spend in school,” PBEd said. “Shorter LAYS means bigger economic losses for the individual in the long term,” it added.
Based on the World Bank simulation, PBEd noted that the Philippines’ total losses amount to more than P1 million for each Filipino student.
“In a separate report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it was found that for nations, the lower long-term growth related to learning losses can yield an average of 1.5% lower annual economic growth for the remainder of the century,” PBEd added.
Breaks, play time are ‘essential’
While learning continuity is important, Dr. Ma. Lourdes “Honey” Carandang underscored the need to “give students a break.”
The country’s top psychologist, during an online mental health and psychosocial support service session for secondary Filipino learners in March, said that online classes are “harder than live or face-to-face” sessions.
Thus, she urged schools, teachers, and parents to give children their “much-needed break.”
Carandang also reminded parents and teachers that giving students a break from schooling, is “essential” and a “necessity.” She also underscored the importance of allowing children – especially the younger ones – to play.