By Joshua Corcuera
Last Monday, most students across the country have returned to their classrooms after two years of studying from home due to the pandemic and the strict travel restrictions that came as a consequence thereof.
Around the world, most countries have re-opened their schools much earlier with some children abroad returning back to school in 2021. Hence, the decision of authorities to resume face-to-face classes is good, reasonable, and a must. At this point in time, it really is inevitable for in-person classes to resume. In fact, I opined in a column in the past that resuming face-to-face classes should have been considered the previous semester for older students as more Filipinos become vaccinated, and the risk of contracting COVID-19 has somehow lessened. Of course, there is no room for complacency, and we must continue working for the safe resumption of face-to-face classes, ligtas na balik-eskwela in Filipino.
The New York Times has reported that the resumption of in-person classes marks the end of “one of the world’s longest pandemic-related shutdowns in a school system already plagued by severe underinvestment.” The World Bank (WB) has reported recently that an overwhelming 9 out of 10 Filipino children aged 10 are not capable of reading and comprehending simple texts—a figure that points to an enormous education gap.
Further, the WB concluded in a report that longer school closures are detrimental to the learning progress of students which may have a devastating consequence in the long-term. Moreover, students from poorer economic backgrounds suffered more during the pandemic as classes shifted to a study-from-home set-up. As a matter of fact, the WB claimed that the inequality between advantaged and disadvantaged students would possibly grow, which poses “a significant challenge to ending extreme poverty and promoting shared prosperity.”
With these facts, it is understandable that most students have to go back to school while observing safety measures, especially wearing face masks at all times, against illnesses such as COVID-19. As usual, the opening of classes saw some young children crying as their parents left them alone. Authorities also reported that the opening of classes were generally smooth, although photos from media outlets have shown and reported some schools suffering from lack of equipment which we hope would be resolved sooner rather than later. Furthermore, some students in rural areas, as was the case in the past, have to cross rivers just to get to school.
From here, it can be deduced that there is an imminent need to increase the budget allocation towards the development of education in the country. We must remember that quality education is a right, not a privilege. Recently, the proposed 2023 national budget seeks to allocate P 852.8 billion for the Department of Education. With this gargantuan budget, let us hope that it would be spent effectively and efficiently towards the improvement of school equipment and facilities, especially those in rural areas and the countryside.
As I write this article, a typhoon is devastating northeastern Philippines and the need for resilient infrastructure, including classrooms, remains more relevant than ever. Also, the Commission on Audit (COA) has flagged the education department in its 2021 audit report because of P 2.4 billion worth of outdated laptops for teachers with each unit costing P 58,300—even more expensive than the high-end MacBook Air. Altogether, let us strive, work, and remain vigilant towards achieving our aspiration of quality education for all Filipino children—whether they are rich or poor, able or disabled, from the cities or the countryside—because it is their right to be well-educated to uplift their lives.