Philippines faces ‘learning crisis’ after yearlong school shutdown

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Manila

Andrix Serrano studies alone inside a Manila slum shack he shares with his street-sweeper grandmother. Like many in his fourth-grade class, he has no internet for his shuttered school’s online lessons.

A year after the coronavirus pandemic sent the Philippines into a months-long lockdown, classrooms across the country remain empty and children are still stuck at home.

Fearing youngsters could catch the virus and infect elderly relatives, President Rodrigo Duterte refuses to lift the restrictions until vaccinations are widespread — something that could take years.

A “blended learning” programme involving online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media was launched in October, four months after the school year was supposed to start.

It has been plagued with problems: most students in the Philippines don’t have a computer or internet at home.

“I can’t do it, it’s difficult for me,” said Serrano, sitting in his shack next to a polluted river, a photo of him wearing a class graduation gown hanging on the wall behind him. “It’s fun in school. It’s easier to learn there.”

The nine-year-old’s science teacher, Kristhean Navales, runs a class over Facebook Messenger but less than half of his 43 students have access to a device.

Using heart and thumb emojis, those that can join signal if they have understood or have questions about the lesson Navales has pasted into the group chat.

They don’t always have internet and what data they have isn’t enough for video calls. “Subjects that require hands-on activity like science, mathematics — how can we do that in the messenger?” Navales asked. —APP

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