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Covid-19 Turns Into An Education Crisis

The prospect of millions of students drop out this school year is very real.

The first tangible nationwide evidence that the Covid-19 has moved from public health and economic problem to educational crisis with long-term severe social implication was the release of 2020-2021 school year (SY) enrolment number by the Department of Education (DepEd) on July 30.  

The student enrolment number covers Kindergarten to Grade 12, including Alternative Learning System (ALS) and non-graded learners with disabilities. Data from the DepEd shows that as of July 29, 22.2 million students have enrolled in public and private schools nationwide for the academic year 2020-2021. The number included 20.85 million students in public school and 1.35 million in the private school.

It is a significant drop from the 27.7 million student enrolment in the previous school year 2019-2020. In SY 2019-2020, There were 22.5 million enrollees in public schools and 4.2 million students in private schools. The enrolment drop is very pronounced in private school; the government estimated that only 31 per cent of private school students had returned. In comparison, the corresponding number of public school students was around 90 per cent of students.

 There is also a phenomenon of private school students migrating to public schools. Education Department Secretary Leonor Briones said during the meeting of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases that the number of private school students who transferred to public schools was at 365,000 as of July.  Stakeholders have shared that this shift had started to take place before the Covid pandemic, since the Duterte government increased the salaries of public school teachers and parents have felt an improvement in the quality of public school offerings.

The unprecedented enrolment drop of 20% is the largest on record sans the second world war disrupted years. Earlier projections on the impact of Covid-19 on the economic and social fabric of the society were likely understated.

The Education Department had taken several measures to mitigate the impact of  COVID-19 situation in the country; it implementeds a remote enrollment system through alternative means of communication that do not require physically reporting to schools, such as text, call, email, and online messaging.  It will also set up drop boxes and kiosks in barangay halls and schools where parents who do not have access to smartphones to pick up or drop off the Learner Enrollment and Survey Form (LESF). 

The effort of the Education Department helps to mitigate the public enrolment crisis, but it was not able to assist in the middle class centric private school enrolment. 

The number of Covid-19 infection cases in the world is more than eighteen million as of August 1 and marching toward a new daily high of three hundred thousand. The resurgence of cases in countries from Australia to South Korea proved the virus is a particularly stickling and infectious one. Philippine’s domestic case is more than eighty five thousand now, amid troubling signs of record-breaking daily new cases. Even more developed  countries are taking down lockdown measures to minimize economic dislocations; the necessity of social distancing, quarantine and isolation means normal economic activities around the world cannot resume until an effective vaccine is available to the general population. 

Several vaccines are rushing into phase three clinical testing in the last week of July. They are China Cansino, China Sinovac, China Sinopharm, UK’s Oxford-AstraZeneca, US’s Moderna and Germany’s BIoNTec-Pfizer vaccines. These vaccines all appeared promising in phase 1 and phase 2 testing, they were safe and elicited both antibody-protein and killer T-cell response in-vitro; however, the question over their in-vivo protection level and duration must wait for phase three clinical test evaluation. 

The earliest date of available data should be around October and vaccines available for general use by the end of the year. There are manufacturing process fine-tuning and distribution issues after the successful testing of vaccines, and most experts cautioned that the world could hopefully return to normal by the second half of next year.  

The education sector is looking at an enrolment gap of almost six million students in this school year. A prolonged absence from school will render a good number of the students losing both learning initiatives and abilities when the country is returning to normal by next year. The long term consequences of millions of students potentially dropping out of education are dreadful. The resurgence of cases also means the education authority cannot discount the school holiday possibility in the coming school year.  

The government has implemented several measures, such as allowing schools to accept late enrollees and developed the Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) to use alternative learning delivery modes. In addition to online learning, students’ self-learning modules, TVs and radio will also be used in learning when classes start.  The Education Department had developed learning modules free of charge and promised to provide printed materials needed in the modules before the start of classes in August.

At the height of school closing in March and April around the world, there were more than 1.2 billion students who stayed out of the physical classroom, and many countries around the world had developed web-based learning apps and tools to bridge the education gap. Many of these tools help supplement regular school learning in the UNICEF study, and during the lockdown, they help to keep the students on learning mode successfully. 

The education department can look around the world to learn the best practices and adopt quick, cost-effective ways to local conditions to both address the student departure problem and the possibility of school disruption. Some contingency moves such as subsidized selling of inexpensive Android-based budget tablets to needy students, trim down regular course content to keep more students in the school system in the uncertain period merit a close look.  Indeed, some local governments like Makati, Manila, Quezon CIty are already adopting their own programs such as providing free and affordable tablets and laptops to teachers and students in need.

All emergency measures to address the education crisis called for additional resources commitment of the government and the window of solving the problem is rapidly closing in.  The civil society, private sectors, parents, and students must also play their vital roles.  There are various systems and platforms available worldwide that the Philippines can learn and adopt, many can be learned from the internet. They must be in place before the school opening.

Part of Series:

Second wave or extension of the first?
https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/06/21/opinion/columnists/second-wave-or-extension-of-the-first/733190/

A similar version was published in Manila Times on August 3, 2020. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)


Dr. Henry Chan is an internationally recognized development economist based in Singapore. He is also a senior visiting research fellow at the Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace and adjunct research fellow at the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). His primary research interest includes global economic development, Asean-China relations and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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