As in previous years, yesterday’s opening of School Year 2021-2022 for 24.6 million basic education students was seen as a hopeful time for young minds to start acquiring knowledge to attain a bright future.
“Punong-puno ng pag-asa ang pagbubukas ng bagong yugto na ito (There’s full of hope with the opening of this new juncture), a Twitter post of DepEd said as Education Secretary Leonor Briones formally launched the opening of the new school year.
As every school opening is supposed to inspire hope and bring forth the means to fulfill one’s aspirations in life, the DepEd cannot be blamed for its optimistic tweet. To be able to start school at all amid a raging pandemic can be considered a terrific achievement.
And Filipino children who are able to reap the benefits of formal education are lucky indeed. “Your first day of school is a day of hope and possibility – a day for getting off to a good start. But not all children are getting off to a good start. Some children are not even starting at all,” UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore said.
UNICEF stressed the importance of positive school experiences as such can be the “predictor of children’s future social, emotional and educational outcomes.” But finding answers is difficult as to how much positive school experiences could be achieved in these challenging times when distance learning had to be resorted when the COVID-19 pandemic started last year.
“Until now, after a year, many students and their families still cannot keep up with the online requirement of distance learning, especially those that have lost their livelihood due to the pandemic,” according to the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers also lamented that the same problems in the previous school year under distance learning are still here. “Education access and quality is expected to continually suffer, while learning loss is unlikely to be circumvented seeing as how the education sector is set to be greeted by similar problems observed in the first school year of distance learning—such as late printing of and insufficient modules, lack of gadgets and internet support, excessive workload and study load, and wanting school safety measures, as were observed in the last school year,” the ACT said.
Without face-to-face or in-person classes, the shift to digital and distance learning has become the only way to proceed with our education system. But coping with online education or a combination of various distance learning modalities using printed modules, including TV and radio-based instruction, is still plagued with difficulties and many questions linger.
How can financially-strained families afford needed WiFi and gadgets for those who want online learning? How would illiterate parents guide their children through home schooling? What if these parents need to do other chores or to leave the house and earn a living, can the kids study and learn on their own?
And the need for face-to-face classes is becoming more pressing amid the warning aired by UNICEF that absence of in-person learning leads to mental distress, learning loss, heightened drop-out risks, among others, and in light of the fact that the Philippines and Venezuela are the only two countries in the world that have yet to resume in-person classes.
“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,” UNICEF said.
Those in grade school are the most impacted by the absence of face-to-face classes. “The first grade sets up the building blocks for all future learning, with introductions to reading, writing, and math,” the UNICEF said. “It's also a period when in-person learning helps children gain independence, adapt to new routines, and develop meaningful relationships with teachers and students. In-person learning also enables teachers to identify and address learning delays, mental health issues, and abuse that could negatively affect children’s well-being.”
The challenges facing our basic education system remains daunting and the need for government, in partnership with the private sector and other education stakeholders, to find solutions soonest is of utmost importance.