The Philippines began the school year with empty classrooms for the second consecutive year on Monday, with critics accusing the government of not doing enough to safeguard children’s right to education.
One of the few countries that has kept schools closed because of the pandemic, the Philippines has decided to continue keeping students away as the country grapples with its worst wave of coronavirus infections yet.
Over the past week, health authorities have registered an average of 20,000 cases per day, stretching the nation’s already overburdened healthcare system.
At a protest in Manila, students held up posters reading "We want schools to open safely" and "No child left behind", while schools handed out supplies and learning materials to families.
President Rodrigo Duterte ordered schools to close in March 2020 because of the pandemic and millions of students switched to online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and radio.
But millions of Filipinos do not have access to computers or tablets needed for remote learning, in a country where 16% live in poverty.
Unicef and several local NGOs have urged authorities to progressively open up schools, particularly in rural areas.
According to UN's children agency, more than 27 million students have been affected by the closure of schools in the Philippines. The global average for school closures was 79 days in 2020.
Unicef Philippines Education Officer Isy Faingold said last week that keeping schools closed was creating more problems than advantages for children, pointing out that “most countries in the world have started a gradual reopening of schools.”
The coordinator of NGO Movement for Safe, Equitable, Quality, and Relevant (SEQuRe) Education, Mercedes Arzadon, said during a conference last week that the Philippines can learn other countries in the region such as Japan, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia that have started reopening schools.
“It is plain ridiculous for our schools to remain indefinitely closed when there have been plenty of studies and successful experiences from other countries that prove safe school reopening is not only possible, but necessary,” Arzadon said.
"Our youth’s future and well-being are at stake, and so is national development. Time is of the essence, especially with the threat of severe learning loss and retrogression if school closure is further prolonged," he added. EFE