The education sector has been one of the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to the threat of the transmission of the virus among schoolchildren, all schools were shut down as early as March 2020. It was not until October 2020 when the schools reopened, albeit not the face-to-face classes that we know, but via online learning, modules, or a combination of both.
This year, a lot of countries have allowed limited face-to-face classes. The Philippines, however, has not allowed in-person classes since March 2020 although pilot testing in low-risk areas is already in place. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines has one of the longest school breaks without any type of formal classes. An estimated 27 million students have lost more than a year of face-to-face schooling.
However, according to a press briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque last September 20, President Rodrigo Duterte has approved the pilot implementation of face-to-face classes in 100 public schools and 20 private schools that are located in low-risk areas. In addition to this, President Duterte has also approved last September 28 limited face-to-face classes for certain degree programs, according to the Commission on Higher Education (CHED).
Moreover, ADB and UNICEF’s studies that discuss how students are harmed during the prolonged closure of schools and its long-term effects, make the approval for the pilot run of face-to-face classes all the more important.
Negative effects of prolonged closure of schools
UNICEF has long been in support of the reopening schools as they are not the main cause of transmission spike. In one of UNICEF’s articles, “Reopening schools safely in the Philippines,” it enumerated the negative effects of prolonged closure of schools on children:
- Without proper teacher-to-student relationships, teaching and learning quality are diminished. Moreover, children miss the opportunity to learn socialization with their peers and teachers.
- Reading, writing, basic mathematics skills, and basic skills needed to thrive in the 21st century are hampered.
- The longer it takes for the schools to reopen, the harder it is to encourage students to go back to school. Out-of-school youths can be vulnerable to early marriages, teenage pregnancy, and child labor.
- The physical and mental health of children are at risk.
- The extensive screen time and time spent online of children are linked to the increase of online violence and abuse.
- Children are vulnerable to threats that would have been protected by the schools’ safety nets.
- Children miss out on schools’ mental health, psycho-social support, and health and nutrition services.
Furthermore, UNICEF has pointed out that distance learning is not an adequate replacement for face-to-face classes. According to a UNICEF-SWS survey in May 2021, 84 percent observed that children are learning less in distance learning despite the amount of time they spend online.
In distance learning, parents are also needed to be involved for children to maximize their learning, ergo, children with parents that don’t have time and knowledge to guide their studies, will most likely suffer from the setup.
Long-term effects on children
A study published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) maintains that the prolonged closure of schools have long-term implications on students’ productivity as future workers of society. Although virtual learning and alternative learning systems have become the mode of instruction to students amid the pandemic, ADB points out that it is “partially effective.”
ADB’s study also shows that while remote learning has been able to provide adequate alternative learning, the effectiveness of it depends on the devices necessary to carry out the instruction, access to, and the effectiveness of these materials.
The “income shocks” due to the pandemic have also been an indirect factor that affected the education sector. The economic crisis as a result of the pandemic has forced some parents to become unemployed, making them unable to support their children’s future. ADB estimated that out of 800 million pre-primary, primary, and secondary school students, 506,130 have dropped out of school.
The prolonged closure of schools affects students’ future productivity and lifetime earnings. The present total value of losses in potential earnings is estimated to be at $1.25 trillion for developing Asia, with a $0.8 trillion dollar loss in an optimistic scenario and a $1.8 trillion dollar loss in a pessimistic scenario. However, these losses in potential earnings just cover the private returns to education. The estimated loss does not include full social returns nor long-term benefits of education on health and society as they generally benefit from everyone’s education. If all of these factors are going to be considered, the value of the loss is probably higher.