More than 22 million Philippine children went “back to school” virtually on Monday, after a seven-month gap in their education due to the coronavirus pandemic, but many faced challenges such as through slow internet speeds or having to share devices for their online classes, officials said.
Schools decided to resume classes for the new academic year by adopting “blended learning,” which includes lesson modules complemented by TV and radio broadcasts as well as online learning.
However, many children from economically disadvantaged families withdrew from classes as schools reported a shortage of the devices needed for such learning and students had difficulties sharing them.
“Like what I have already said, opening of classes may not have been perfect, but we did prepare for it,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said. “We are still optimistic that overall, the opening of blended learning in our country was successful.”
“Don’t worry, even if there are a lot of areas where internet signal is slow, we can use TV and radio.”
In some areas, teachers set up makeshift drive-through centers to allow parents to pick up education modules for their children. In far-flung areas, some teachers had to swim across rivers or climb mountains to hand over learning materials to students or to access the internet, reported local radio and television.
Data from the education department showed that 22.74 million students had enrolled in public and private schools this year – a significant decrease from last year’s 27.7 million turnout.
President Rodrigo Duterte had flirted with the idea of calling off classes for the entire year, or until a cure for COVID-19 is found, but was overruled by his education minister.
On Monday, Mila Castañeda, principal of the Gabaldon Elementary School in the northern province of Tarlac, said school buildings in her region wore a desolate look as children stayed home.
“There were no students to welcome back, but we still came,” Castañeda told BenarNews, adding that each teacher had distributed lesson modules and printed materials in advance to students.
“We only use the internet during virtual meetings and consultation with the learners, because we cannot connect with many students who live in really far flung rural areas.”
Castañeda said many parents were adjusting to their new roles as hands-on teachers at home, adding that parents and teachers found the first day of school to be a challenge.
“[T]here are just too many modules and the students will have to study on their own with the help of their parents,” Castañeda said.
Much of the nation remains in various stages of lockdown as the Philippines has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections in the East Asia region.
Last week, Duterte decided that quarantine restrictions in Manila and five other heavily populated urban centers would remain until at least the end of October.
Still, the Department of Trade and Industry last week eased restrictions on 17 industries such as malls, food, public transportation, and mining and quarrying.
Malls are now allowed to stay open until 11 p.m., salons and barbershops can operate at 75 percent capacity and essential shops are allowed to operate at full capacity. Restaurants and fast food chains are allowed to run at more than 50 percent capacity while their dine-in and delivery services can resume round-the-clock operations.
The new policies aim to aid the economy, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said last week, adding that the recommendations by economic managers were approved by the national task force to address COVID-19.
The department’s circular last week stressed “the need to provide stability for businesses, re-stimulate the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic and address the growing number of joblessness, poverty and hunger incidence in the country is increasing.”
On Monday, the health department reported 64 more COVID-19 deaths, taking the total death toll to 5,840. Additionally, 2,291 infections were recorded, increasing that number to 324,762, the most in the East Asia region.
Neighboring Indonesia topped 300,000 infections on Sunday and added another 3,622 on Monday, bringing the total to 307,120 according to health officials. Its death toll is nearly double that of the Philippines as 102 deaths recorded on Monday brought the total to 11,253.
Meanwhile in Malaysia, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin announced on Monday that he would self-quarantine for two weeks after Religious Affairs Minister Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who attended a meeting with him on Saturday, tested positive for COVID-19.
In addition, two state assemblymen, Shatiri Mansor of the People’s Justice Party and Lim Yi Wei of the Democratic People’s Party, announced that they had been infected.
Malaysian health officials reported 432 new infections on Monday – a record one-day count for the nation – bringing the pandemic total to 12,813. The death toll in the country is 137.
Globally, more than 35.2 million people have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 1 million have died according to disease experts at the U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.