On August 22, schools in the Philippines will finally reopen their doors to students after two and a half years, one of the longest pandemic-induced school closures in the world. As well as devastating the individual prospects of countless children, the prolonged hiatus threatens to leave long-term scars on an economy historically dependent on sending highly-skilled workers abroad.
Prolonged school closures worsen basic literacy standards and will likely reduce children’s productivity and earnings once they enter the workforce, the World Bank warned in a recent report.
About 10% of Filipinos work abroad, and the economy relies on remittances sent by their overseas nurses, teachers, and engineers, among other workers.
A steady stream of graduates is also essential for the country to establish itself as an outsourcing hub for international corporations and to increase the number of decent jobs closer to home.
The impact is huge the country’s economic planning chief, Arsenio Balisacan, said in an interview. “The quality of the graduates we produce affects the competitiveness of our workforce.
While prolonged school closures have affected many countries, particularly the poorest, the problem is particularly acute in the Philippines, where the closure has been one of the longest in the world according to data from the United Nations Children’s Fund. . Even now, full face-to-face teaching is not scheduled until November.
One of the reasons for the delay in reopening is the social structure of the country. Households are mostly made up of extended families, so many children live with grandparents who are vulnerable to the virus due to their old age, or with other relatives who may have underlying health problems.
Fears exacerbated by the virus are longstanding logistical problems at underfunded schools, including overcrowding. Before the virus, public school classes of more than 60 students were common, requiring sharing of textbooks and preventing any meaningful social distancing.