Filipino students face a serious gap in learning as a result of the world’s longest community lockdown that put them out of physical classrooms for nearly two years.
Many students, now in their third grade, could barely read and write. When most schools reopened on Aug. 22, teachers saw the serious challenge of improving the learners’ literacy.
Michelle Mercado, who has been teaching at Rosario Elementary School in Pasig City for 20 years, said the school’s literacy and numeracy assessments conducted before the end of the previous school year had revealed a wide learning gap among students.
“There was an assessment conducted to identify the children who were not Grade 1-ready. Grade 1-ready means they should at least know the sounds, alphabets, and words, but the results of the assessment showed there were children who fell behind in learning,” Mercado said.
Teachers from Rosario Elementary School conducted home visits to assess students who were not able to attend limited face-to-face classes.
“We were expecting that they would be able to answer the test well, but when the teacher read the questions, we found there’s really a gap. But the number of our honor pupils reached 600, based on the results of the performance and written tests that were taken at home. While we did our part to make sure that the ones taking the tests were the children, it’s still different,” she said.
Edisa Dublado, a 38-year old mother of two including a Kindergarten pupil and a Grade 3 student, said her eldest needed to improve his reading skills. The child was in Grade 1 when the onslaught of the pandemic led to school closures in 2020.
“In reading, he struggles with English. In writing, he is still not that good. There are times when the letters he writes do not meet the lines on the notebook,” said Dublado, who focused on helping her children in their studies.
Being a “full-time mother” helped Dublado guide her son through online learning, but she confessed that it was not enough to match the styles and techniques of physical classes in campuses.
“Face-to-face is still better, because with online [learning], there are times your child becomes sleepy. After he answers the tests, he immediately goes back to bed. In the face-to-face setup, teachers actually get to monitor the students,” she said.
Dublado said her son struggles even in reading Filipino language, as he either mispronounces or misspells the words.
A joint report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Bank released in March showed that the Philippines had the longest pandemic-induced school closures among the 122 countries covered, breaking the 70-week mark since the pandemic began in 2020.
The World Bank warned that with the Philippines being reliant on sending high-skilled workers to different countries, the prolonged school closures would aggravate the learning gap and result in decreased productivity and earnings by the time the students join the workforce.
The Washington-based lender said in another report in July that the Philippines is one of the countries in the East Asia and Pacific region with the highest rates of learning poverty. This learning crisis could threaten the country’s efforts to build human capital, it said.
“Without foundational learning, students often fail to thrive later in school or when they join the workforce. They don’t acquire the human capital they need to power their careers and economies once they leave school,” the World Bank said in the report.
Overseas Filipino workers including doctors, nurses, seafarers, teachers, engineers, and service workers are in high demand in other countries.
The Philippines is the fourth largest recipient of remittances amounting to over $30 billion annually and accounting for almost 10 percent of the gross national income.
Job of parents too
Gloria Altura, a 54-year-old teacher and grandparent of Grade 2 and Grade 4 students, started monitoring their learning progress when the pandemic hit in 2020. She said parents have a major responsibility in the education of their children at home.
“In online learning, parents have a big contribution because they are the ones who have enough time to teach the children, hence children who have a ‘full-time mother’ are lucky. For full-time working mothers, the children’s reading skills weren’t given attention,” she said.
Dublado agreed, saying that learning in the time of pandemic requires collective efforts from parents and teachers to ensure that children are able to comprehend the school lessons.
“In this situation, it is very important to have parental guidance. The teacher is there for a few hours, the learners study for just a few hours, and yet they only do it online. They did briefly go face-to-face but that was just for assessment, so time just went by so fast,” said Dublado.
Mercado, the teacher in Pasig, said distance learning was originally intended for the ‘mature’ students who could learn on their own. Distance learning was first developed for students pursuing Master’s or Doctorate degrees, and not for Kindergarten or Grade 1 pupils.
“This setup really requires the attention of the parents because even if the camera is turned on, you won’t know if the child is playing or what. Especially in text-based learning, we would not know if we’re talking to the child himself during instruction or teaching,” said Mercado.