Philippines Returns to School, Ending One of World’s Longest Shutdowns
Millions of students throughout the Philippines headed to school Monday as in-person classes began to fully restart for the first time in more than two years, ending one of the world’s longest pandemic-related shutdowns in a school system already plagued by severe underinvestment.
“We could no longer afford to delay the education of young Filipinos,” said Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the education secretary, as she toured schools in the town of Dinalupihan, about 40 miles northwest of Manila.
Even before the pandemic, the Philippines had among the world’s largest education gaps, with more than 90% of students unable to read and comprehend simple texts by age 10, according to the World Bank.
Schools in the Philippines have long suffered from shortages of classrooms and teachers, whose pay is low, leaving the vast numbers of poor children who cannot afford private schools and rely on the public system with inadequate teaching.
Now, after losing more than two years of in-person instruction, schools face the challenge of educating many students who have fallen even further behind. Although the Philippines offered online instruction during the pandemic, many students lacked access to computers or internet connections, and overburdened parents often found it hard to keep tabs on their children’s remote learning.
In some cases, students’ already tenuous connection to school may have been severed entirely after so long away.
In many other countries, as the negative effects of online learning became well documented, governments elected to send children back to classrooms even as the coronavirus continued to circulate widely.
But in the Philippines, government officials and parents remained hesitant, with fears that schoolchildren could bring the virus to homes crowded with multiple generations of family members, potentially overtaxing a creaky health care system.
Starting in late 2021, the government began to experiment with conducting in-person classes in about 300 schools, but has begun expanding it to cover all primary and secondary schools. Currently only some schools are in-person all five weekdays; by November, all of the country’s roughly 47,000 schools will be.
文／Jason Gutierrez 譯／張佑生