Philippines reopens schools for the first time since March 2020

As part of a pilot project to reopen schools, thousands of Filipino children were allowed to return to classes on Monday, the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

While almost all countries in the world have partially or fully reopened their schools, the Philippines has closed them since March 2020.

Kindergarten teacher Xyrex Damayo said he was “a little nervous” when welcoming eight of his students to Siokon Elementary School in Bogo, Cebu Island.

“I expected some of them to cry. (But) it went smoothly and we didn’t have any problems,” he told AFP.

A national education official said a hundred schools out of more than 61,000 have been selected for a two-month trial, which is to be extended in the coming weeks.

Many of these schools are located in remote locations, mountains or islands, and attend populations that are considered to be at low risk of transmitting the virus.

“I cannot guarantee that it will be a 100% success, but according to our assessment, we are very hopeful that this pilot project will be successful,” Education Minister Leonor Briones said last week.

Nursery schools and the first three levels of primary school as well as high school students can participate in this exam.

Class sizes are limited by class times, with strict rules for wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing.

A “blended learning” programme, which includes online courses, print materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media, will be continued.

According to Oliver Sanchez, principal of Navotas City’s Philemon T. Lizan High School, most parents wanted their children to return to the classroom.

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“I think they are tired of teaching their children,” Sanchez told AFP.

About 30% of the 110 million residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the rate reaches 70% in the capital, Manila.

The Philippines has recorded more than 2.8 million cases since the start of the pandemic but the number of daily infections has declined in recent weeks.

The United Nations Children’s Fund and many teachers have made increasingly urgent calls for face-to-face learning, fearing a prolonged shutdown will further exacerbate the country’s education crisis.

Filipino 15-year-olds are at or near the bottom of the OECD rankings in reading, math and science.

Most students attend public schools where class size, outdated teaching practices, lack of investment in basic infrastructure such as toilets and poverty are all factors that explain the backwardness of youth.

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