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Filipino kids go back to school after lockdowns

August 22, 2022

Millions of children across the Philippines have attended their first in-person lessons since the pandemic began. Education officials are concerned that illiteracy rates have worsened because of school closures.

Students attend a flag raising ceremony during the opening of classes at the San Juan Elementary School in Pasig, Philippines
Education officials two years of shut classrooms has worsened illiteracy ratesImage: Aaron Favila/AP Photo/picture alliance

Filipino students return to the classroom

Almost 28 million schoolchildren in the Philippines returned to the classroom Monday after two years of pandemic lockdowns. That ends one of the world's longest-running pandemic protocols.

Health authorities have lifted most of the remaining restrictions amid fears of growing illiteracy rates among schoolchildren. Classes have taken place via remote learning up until now.

"For two years, we longed for face-to-face classes so, even if there's a flood, we will continue our lessons," schoolteacher Mylene Ambrocio told the Reuters news agency as she stood in ankle-deep water caused by flooding from monsoon rains in Pampanga province north of the capital. "I am happy to see the children face-to-face."

School closures in the Philippines

Which restrictions remain in schools?

Children were required to wear masks, and temperatures were checked as students made their way into schoolrooms. Restrictions on the amount of students allowed per classroom also remain in place.

About 24,000 of the country's public schools — around 46% of the total number — were able to proceed with in-person lessons. According to education officials the rest will continue with in-person and online classes until November 2 when both private and public schools will be required to have all students back in class.

Around 1,000 schools will not be able to make the shift for reasons that include buildings damaged by last month's powerful earthquake in the north.

Students fall in line during the opening of classes at the San Juan Elementary School in Pasig, Philippines
Children were still required to wear masks, and restrictions on the number of children in classes remainImage: Aaron Favila/AP Photo/picture alliance

Why have schools been shut for so long?

The Philippines was among the worst-hit countries in Southeast Asia.

Authorities under then President Rodrigo Duterte decided to keep schools shut as the country grappled with spiking infections.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 the government rolled out a distance-learning program that allowed students to attend classes either online or by using printed self-study learning modules.

This led to concerns of an increased education gap among children in poor and rural areas.

According to government statistics, only about 18% of households in the Philippines have an internet connection at home.

According to a World Bank study published last year, nine out of 10 children in the country were suffering from "learning poverty," or the inability to read and comprehend a simple story by the age of 10.

kb/rt (AP, Reuters)