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Unicef cites ill effects of absence of in-person classes

The Philippines’ extended quarantine has infringed on the rights to learn of more than 27 million Filipino students, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

According to Unicef Philippines representative Oyunsaikhan Dendevnorov, schools globally were fully closed for 79 teaching days, on average, but schools in the Philippines have been closed for more than a year already.

The Philippines is among five countries that have not resumed in-person classes since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared last year.

Dendevnorov said, “The associated consequences of school closures — learning loss, mental distress, missed vaccinations and heightened risk of dropout, child labor and child marriage — will be felt by many children, especially the youngest learners in critical development stages.”

The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) said, “remote education may worsen inequality as some households have limited access to reliable internet and necessary devices.”

During a Senate hearing, the Department of Education (DepEd) admitted it has yet to present to President Duterte a proposal for limited in-person classes in 100 public schools.

DepEd proposed the pilot in-person classes in December 2020. The President approved the proposal but changed his mind following the emergence of the highly transmissible UK COVID-19 variant.

Unicef advocated a “phased reopening of schools,” starting in low-risk on a voluntary basis with safety protocols in place.

It urged governments to implement back-to-school programs where children have better access to services aimed at meeting learning, health and psychosocial well-being.

The first day of school is “a landmark moment in a child’s life,” according to Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore, adding that millions of Grade 1 students globally had been waiting to see a classroom for more than a year.

“Millions more may not see one at all this school term. For the most vulnerable, their risk of never stepping into a classroom in their lifetime is skyrocketing,” she added.

In the Philippines, 26.6 million students enrolled in public and private schools in school year 2020-2021.

Sen. Pia Cayetano said, “Let us not delude ourselves that this is working,” Cayetano said, referring to the current remote learning setup.

In December 2020, DepEd nominated 1,114 public schools in Calabarzon and Eastern Visayas for inclusion in the pilot study. This was reduced to just 100 schools after DepEd consulted with DOH.

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