With blended learning set in place when the new school year opens in public schools next month, UNICEF expressed concern that millions of Filipino children will continue to miss education opportunities in another year of school closure.
“The Philippines is one of the five countries in the world that have not started in-person classes since the pandemic began, affecting the right to learn of more than 27 million Filipino students,” UNICEF said in a statement on Wednesday, Aug. 25.
The other four countries are Bangladesh, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.
While the various new variants are causing a rise of infections, UNICEF continues to advocate for a “phased reopening of schools, beginning in low-risk areas” which can be done on a “voluntary basis” with proper safety protocols and minimum health standards in place.
“The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child’s life—setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. Most of us can remember countless minor details—what clothes we wore, our teacher’s name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
Fore added that 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.
“Millions more may not see one at all this school term,” she noted. “For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing,” she explained.
UNICEF said that for an estimated eight million students around the globe—who should have been in the first grade— the “wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic.”
School closures in PH
UNICEF Philippines Representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov explained that in 2020, schools globally were fully closed for an average of 79 teaching days “while the Philippines has been closed for more than a year, forcing students to enroll in distance learning modalities.”
Dendevnorov noted that 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.”
Citing studies, UNICEF noted that positive school experiences during this transition period are a predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes.
“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,” it explained.
Likewise, it was also stressed that the number of years of education a child receives also directly affects their future earnings.
Given this, UNICEF urges governments — including the Philippines – to “reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and to provide a comprehensive recovery response for students.”
Along with the World Bank and UNESCO, UNICEF is also urging governments to focus on three key priorities for recovery in schools which include targeted programs to bring all children and youth back in school where they can access tailored services to meet their learning, health, psychosocial well-being, and other needs; effective remedial learning to help students catch up on lost learning; and support for teachers to address learning losses and incorporate digital technology into their teaching.
Fore also underscored that a child’s first day of school is a “day of hope and possibility” to get off to a good start but this is not the same for all children as some are not even starting at all.
“We must reopen schools for in-person learning as soon as possible, and we must immediately address the gaps in learning this pandemic has already created,” Fore said. “Unless we do, some children may never catch up,” she added.