Years of Covid-19 school closures leave Philippines with deep scars


On Aug 22, schools in the Philippines will finally reopen their doors to students after two and a half years, one of the longest pandemic-induced school closures in the world.

As well as devastating the individual prospects of countless children, the extended hiatus is threatening to leave long-term scars on an economy historically reliant on sending highly skilled workers abroad.

Protracted school closures worsen basic literacy standards and will likely reduce the productivity and earnings of children once they enter the workforce, the World Bank warned in a recent report.

A steady flow of graduates is essential to the Philippines’ push to establish itself as an outsourcing center for international corporations and to increasing the number of decent jobs closer to home.

“The impact is huge,” the country’s economic planning chief Arsenio Balisacan said. “The quality of graduates we produce affects the competitiveness of our labor force.”

While protracted school closures have bedeviled many countries, particularly poorer ones, the problem is particularly acute in the Philippines, where the shutdown has been one of the longest in the world according to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund. Even now, full in-person teaching isn’t planned until November.

One reason for the tardiness in reopening is the country’s social structure. Households are mostly composed of extended families, so many children live with grandparents who are vulnerable to the virus because of old age, or with other relatives who may have underlying health conditions.

Exacerbating fears of the virus are long-standing logistical issues in poorly funded schools, including overcrowding.

Success is crucial if the next generation of Filipinos are to access good quality jobs, and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is to keep his pledge to bring the poverty rate to 9 percent by the end of his term in 2028 from 23.7 percent as of the first half of last year.

A failing education system means the nation’s future labor force could have a much more limited skill set, said economist Nicholas Mapa.

Without a good education, migrant Filipinos will be looking at roles in vulnerable occupations as cleaning and domestic work, Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan Ople said. These typically attract both poorer pay and conditions.

In his inauguration speech, Marcos said pushing more money into education and reforms such as revamping the curricula is a top priority.

Entry-level teachers in public elementary and secondary schools receive monthly salaries of just over US$400 (S$548) and primary education expenditure per child in the country is 30 percent below the average for lower middle-income countries.

“We are condemning the future of our race to menial occupations abroad,” Marcos said, making his case for reform. “Once we had an education system that prepared coming generations for more and better jobs. There is hope for a comeback.”




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