The Philippines — known for imposing one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 lockdowns — will welcome the first cohort of children back to face-to-face learning this month, drawing an end to almost two years of continuous, nationwide school closures.
The two-month trial will see 100 schools in low COVID-19 areas open their doors to thousands of pupils.
The nation’s Department of Education said more schools and students are expected to join the pilot program in the coming weeks, pending an increase in vaccination rates across the country and a continued steady reduction in COVID-19 case numbers.
COVID-19 infections peaked in mid-September 2021 at over 21,000 confirmed daily cases.
As of mid-November, cases are averaging 1,500 a day.
"We are happy to see our learners inside our classrooms as we recognize the significance of face-to-face learning in their social development,” the department said in a statement on Monday. “In the coming weeks, more learners in public and private schools will follow suit as President [Rodrigo Duterte] approved to increase the number of pilot participants.”
Class sizes and the length of lessons have been cut, and only vaccinated teachers will be permitted, according to Reuters.
The Department of Education (DepEd) declares the launch of the pilot run for face-to-face classes a success. https://t.co/VykZPc6pWd— CNN Philippines (@cnnphilippines) November 16, 2021
The Philippines — which has recorded the second-highest COVID-19 case numbers, behind Indonesia, in Southeast Asia — has long classified children as particularly susceptible to the virus, with Duterte also raising concern that kids could easily infect older citizens.
Close to 50,000 Philippine youth had contracted COVID-19 as of February 2021, around 9% of national cases at the time.
Globally, children are thought to make up 15% of all confirmed infections.
The United Nations have supported the Philippines’ decision to resume face-to-face learning for its 27 million students, explaining that prolonged school closures are likely to have significant, detrimental effects on emotional, mental, physical, and cognitive development.
"The longer children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Out-of-school children are more vulnerable to early marriage, teenage pregnancy and child labour,” UNICEF revealed. “Without the safety net that school often provides, they are more vulnerable to abuse, gender-based violence including sexual exploitation and child marriage, and child labour that they may experience at home, especially in the stressful context of the pandemic.”
Just under 10 million children worldwide are thought to have dropped out of school forever due to COVID-19.
One in 3 were unable to access adequate remote learning.
Nearly 60% of households in the Philippines do not have access to the internet.
A pre-pandemic World Bank report ranked the nation last in reading and second to last in science and mathematics among 79 countries, with 80% of pupils coming in under the minimum level of learning for their age.