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COVID-19 disruptions takes toll on education in Philippines

PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ANN – Less than 15 per cent of schoolchildren in the Philippines, or about three in every 20, can read simple texts in large part due to the longest schools closure of more than 70 weeks as of the middle of February caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said in a report.

The latest Unicef assessment translates to a learning poverty – defined by the World Bank as the share of 10-year-olds who cannot read or understand a simple story – of more than 85 per cent, which is slightly better than the World Bank estimate of as high as 90 per cent in November of last year.

Learning poverty in 2019, or before the pandemic happened, was 69.5 per cent, according to the World Bank.

Unicef’s latest joint report with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and the World Bank titled Where are We on Education Recovery? showed that schools in the Philippines had been closed from face-to-face classes the longest among the 122 countries that the report covered.

Since the onset of the pandemic in mid-March 2020, only a few schools in the country have returned to in-person instruction and the government had piloted face-to-face schooling in public schools, but in a limited scope as COVID-19 continued to rear its ugly head.

Filipino students in class. PHOTO: PDI

Next to the Philippines with the longest schools closure was Uganda, which was nearing breaching the 70-week mark.

Although with shorter closures than the Philippines, however, many other poor and developing countries such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gambia, Mozambique, and Myanmar suffered a similar fate of having only less than 15 per cent of children able to read a simple text.

Globally, “two years into the pandemic, schools have been fully closed for 20 weeks and partially closed for an additional 21 weeks, on average across countries”, Unicef said.

“Data from the Unesco global monitoring of school closures reveal that about one in 10 countries have fully closed their schools for over 40 weeks.

“Schoolchildren around the world have missed an estimated two trillion hours – and counting – of in-person learning since the onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns,” Unicef added.

Unicef noted that even before the pandemic more than half of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were unable to read or comprehend a simple story – “now that figure is estimated to be as high as 70 per cent”.