Based on the ground-level consultations with children throughout the past months, the Child Rights Network (CRN) said that many of them are appealing for the government to do “everything possible to reopen their schools.”
CRN, the largest alliance of organizations and agencies pushing for children’s rights legislation in the Philippines, revealed this as it called on President Duterte to push for the gradual reopening of schools amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation in the country.
“Filipino children are not asking for an immediate back-to-normal school reopening, but rather a scientific and all-inclusive approach that would ensure that their generation will continue to access quality education by all means,” CRN said.
Impact on learning, child development
CRN expressed concern on the impact of continued school closures among learners.
While the Department of Education (DepEd) formally opened a new school year on Sept. 13, Philippine schools remain closed due to the pandemic.
For the second time, DepEd is implementing a distance/blended learning approach since in-person learning is still not allowed by the government.
“We cannot stress enough: the declining participation rate and quality of education brought about by school closures is a learning and child development catastrophe waiting to happen,” CRN warned.
Citing National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), it was projected that the limit to “students’ learning ability due to the lack of face-to-face classes for a year would result in a projected P11-trillion loss in productivity over the next 40 years.”
CRN also noted that school closures have also “profoundly affected” students’ physical and mental health — as manifested by reduced physical activity, poor eating habits, and sleep disturbance.
“Many children who were also forced to spend more time at home in a stressful context increased the risks of family violence,” CRN said.
“The shift to online learning also exacerbated the threats of online harm and disrupted services for identifying and reporting abuse and mental health issues,” it added.
CRN also pointed out that at the household level, the economic consequences of the prolonged distance learning modalities — especially the online classes — have “discouraged” many families from enrolling their children.
“The prolonged off-site education scheme further exacerbates women’s undervalued and unpaid domestic work,” CRN stressed.
Children are learning ‘less’
Citing a survey conducted by UNICEF Philippines and SWS in May 2021, CRN said that 84 percent observed that “children learned less” in distance learning than in traditional in-person learning.
“If we don’t reopen schools with a phased approach now, the most vulnerable children will be in danger of never walking back through the school gates, gambling their futures to uncertainty and even depriving them of the nurturing educational environment they need in their formative years,” CRN said.
Address the gaps
As it awaits the go signal of the government to allow pilot testing of in-person learning, CRN called DepEd and other concerned government agencies to “immediately strengthen” existing distance learning modalities.
“Without urgent action, we fear that the hard-won battles of education equity would be eroded,” CRN said.
In particular, CRN said that focus should also be given to children who have opted to drop out of classes since the school closures began.
“Factors that led to this situation must be holistically addressed, including socioeconomic circumstances such as lack of Internet access and hardships experienced at home,” it added.
Moreover, CRN pointed out that DepEd is not currently administering the Philippine Educational Placement Test (PEPT).
The PEPT is for learners for non-formal and informal education programs or those who have incomplete or no record of formal school and learners who are over age for their grade levels.
CRN said that the PEPT should “conclusively and speedily adapt” to the current situation.