October 11, 2021 (10:42 PM)

5 min read


SAFE RETURN TO CAMPUS. Two years into remote school learning, students in far flung areas continue to be at a disadvantage; thus, educators and experts advocate for a safe return to campus. Photo by Jeni Anne Rosario

Calling for a safe return to campus, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Philippines Chief of Education Isy Faingold emphasized the need to reopen schools with a safe approach to reach the most disadvantaged and vulnerable without leaving any child behind. 

In the “Safe-to-Face: A Safe School Reopening” forum held last Saturday, Faingold noted the ineffectiveness of distance learning and the exacerbated risk of students dropping out. 

“We know that distance learning modality is not a replacement for in-person learning. There have been recent studies in the U.S. in which they have calculated that online learning is 52% as effective as in-person learning,” he said. 

This indicates, according to Faingold, the tremendous learning loss of students which affects their future productivity and lifetime learning.

Faingold, citing a National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) study, said that there is an estimated 11 trillion pesos productivity loss over the next four decades due to the absence of face-to-face classes. 

“This is more challenging for those from low-income backgrounds, rural areas, and those with disabilities. Those that are more disadvantaged face the bigger challenge,” he said. 

“We should not leave any child behind and we should make extra efforts to bridge those at risk. Distance learning modality has to be strengthened to ensure that children are catered very well. Progressively, all children should go back to in-person learning safely,” Faingold added. 

Widened education inequity gap

With the struggles of less-privileged students, Sikat-Baler founder RJ Belen shed light on the face of education amidst the pandemic and stressed how it is “anti-poor in all aspects.”

The second year of remote schooling posed another onset of challenges for the students, especially those from far-flung areas who are left with no choice but to settle with the demands of distance learning.

“This pandemic had, and continues to have, a devastating impact on our children. This has widened the gap of education inequity in our country,” he said. 

Seeing less-privileged students suffer and fall behind, while more privileged students continue with their quality education is an indicator of a “social phenomenon that is often linked with the notion, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” Belen pointed.

He then elaborated that the widening gap of education inequity is reflected in the difference between the accumulated advantage of students from high-income families compared to the struggles of students, parents, and teachers on the margins of our education system.

“Will our more privileged students learn more every day while our less-privileged students continue to suffer and fall frustratingly further behind? Ganito ‘yung mukha ng education natin ngayon na may pandemya,” he said. 

Prior to the pandemic, the 2018 PISA results showed PH ranking last among 79 countries in reading and second to the last in science and math. 

Thus, Belen continued to call for quality education in certain communities that will give less-privileged children the foundation to access all other learning.  

‘Where do we go from here?’

To actively address the issue of students, teachers, and parents alike being reduced as mere faces of education inequity, Belen urged the need to pressure our government for a ‘ligtas na balik eskwela’ as a call to action for those who can lead positive change.

“I think we all want to go to a time where our schools are safely opened for our students. Gusto natin ng ligtas na balik eskwela that has a massive testing and faster vaccination rollout. Gusto natin ng ligtas na balik eskwela that employs adequate safety protocols and equipment in our schools. And gusto natin ng ligtas na balik eskwela that underscores medical and not military solutions when it comes to dealing with this pandemic,” Belen explained. 

He encouraged everyone to pioneer small yet practical projects like reading sessions and book donation drives to democratize access to education amid the pandemic, especially those in the margins. 

Belen exemplified his programs ‘My First Teacher’ and ‘Abot Ko ang Libro’, “which empowers parents to teach reading at home and brings books closer to kids through story-telling sessions and borrowing books of their own choice.”

“Our hope is to cultivate a love of reading among kids and their families. Gusto nating bumuo ng isang komunidad na [ang] lahat ng batang Pilipino ay nakakabasa at his or her expected grade level. Hangad natin ng isang bansa na ‘yung pundasyon ay ang literacy ng bawat mamamayan because when everyone can read, the whole community thrives,” he said.

Moreover, Belen highlighted the importance of exercising the right to vote to redirect the education crisis that Filipino students face today. 

“More importantly, what we also can do is to register for the 2022 national elections. Let’s channel our frustration into action by registering to vote. Let’s elect leaders who will champion quality and relevant education for all,” he said.

He further reminded students the fight against education inequity, no matter how long and difficult, “is a fight that is well worth our efforts and it’s one that we can win.”

SAMAHAN President Karlo Torreon, one of the panelists, said that a safe return to school will happen when everyone is consulted because “we can only go back to campus if we do it together.”

Torreon disclosed Ateneo’s initial phase of ‘safe return to school plan’ by giving students from selected courses limited face-to-face access to laboratory facilities by January 2022.

End the silence of the gagged!

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