Almost a month since classes reopened in all public schools, an estimated 22 million children and youth were not able to go to school to learn, play, and socialize with friends, schoolmates, and teachers because of the health risks of Covid-19.
Instead, learners began attending classes at home through various learning modalities such as distance, blended, or modular, as well as online and TV/Radio-based instruction.
Adapting to these learning modalities has not been easy. While attending online classes at home, children rely heavily on parents and guardians to support them.
However, parents and guardians are also facing different challenges to make ends meet. Some have difficulties in their current work set up while others experienced loss of income and employment due to the lockdown and prolonged quarantine measures imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Most of the 800,000 public school teachers struggle with the technological difficulties of conducting classes in the digital platforms, compared to the ease of using blackboards and whiteboards. Teachers’ access to laptop and desktop computers, including Internet connection, is also a major challenge in conducting online classes.
According to the Department of Education, at least 13 percent or 99,155 public school teachers have no computers at home. The DepEd also said that even for 687,911 teachers with computers at home, 41 percent or 280,531 of them do not have access to the Internet, and 10 percent of them—71,128—said there is no Internet signal in their area.
Learning must continue
Amid all the challenges, children’s rights to inclusive and quality education, and to be safe from the health risks of Covid-19 must be fulfilled.
There are 1.6 billion learners globally, and 91 percent of them were out of school, including children and youth from the Philippines, because of the school closures due to the pandemic.
This is the first time in human history that an entire generation of children have had their education disrupted.
By being out of school, children can feel anxious and can perceive time differently from adults. A few weeks or months out of school may seem a longer period to them. This means children tend to feel anxious about any period of time they are out of school and the learning and socialization they are missing. They fear they will not be able to catch up and start to worry that the longer schools are closed, the more likely they are to forget about the lessons.
Going to school is critical to children, especially to those living in the toughest places on Earth.
For a period of five years, Save the Children has asked at least 1,215 children in six countries about their priorities during crisis. Nearly one in three or 29 percent ranked education as their top priority, over food, clothing and shelter. These are children who were struggling to survive in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda in the Philippines; child refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; children living in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Rohingya children in refugee camps in Bangladesh; and Children displaced by fighting in Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Classes may have resumed, but millions of children may not be able to return to school.
These are children pushed into poverty because of Covid-19 as their families are having a hard time putting food on the table and roof over their heads. These are adolescent girls who face risk of gender-based violence, early pregnancy or child marriage, trapped in a cycle of violence and poverty, and denied the chance to fulfill their potential. These are children living in conflict-affected areas who are at risk of being recruited into armed groups; children with disabilities; those living in places prone to extreme weather events; and children from indigenous people community.
The current pandemic exacerbates their dire situation, putting them behind and exponentially impacting their lives.
This year marks the 30th year of Philippine ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC), once described by South African leader Nelson Mandela as “that luminous, living document that enshrines the rights of every child without exception, to a life of dignity and self-fulfillment.”
One of the guiding principles of the convention is for all governments to consider the best interest of the child in all decisions affecting them.
The reopening of classes will meet the learning and well-being needs of children during these times. To ensure the success of distance learning during the pandemic, children, parents and teachers must be provided with support, through an effective feedback mechanism that will help the Department of Education come up with context-based and evidence-based solutions.
The fulfillment of the rights of every child to education during the pandemic can be supported in three ways: keep learning alive during school closure through inclusive distance learning; support every child to return to school when it’s safe to do so; and build back better and more resilient education systems.
Schools give children a sense of normalcy, and the routine of attending classes calm their souls amid adversities.
Education gives children hope and empowers them to build better lives.
The author is the Chief Executive Officer of Save the Children Philippines.