Manila, Oct 5 (efe-epa).- Over 24 students in the Philippines began their virtual classes on Monday for a new school year amid a possibility that more than 3 million children from lower-income families, with no access to gadgets and technology, will be left out of the mainstream education.
The new academic year, originally scheduled to start in June, began after it was pushed back twice due to the pandemic that has infected 322,500 people and killed more than 5,700.
Some 22.5 million students have enrolled in public schools and 2.1 million in private institutions for the new school year, compared to a total of 27.7 million in the previous year.
To attract more students, the Department of Education has extended the enrollment period until the end of November as long as children attend at least 80 percent of the classes.
“Today, we celebrate a great victory, we declare our victory over Covid-19… We will not allow Covid-19 to destroy our children’s education and their future,” Education Secretary Leonor Briones said in an online press conference.
Although the country’s 47,000 public schools have been preparing for a virtual reopening for months, parent and teacher organizations have warned that this will be a challenging school year.
They say many families do not have the resources to attend online classes despite many municipalities having distributed devices and data cards in low-income neighborhoods.
In the face of these problems, most public schools have opted for a mixed teaching method, with online classes being supplemented by the distribution of printed materials and the broadcasting of classes on public radio and television.
“There are crisis and constant challenges. Even if it’s hard, we need to do it. We cannot wait any longer. We need to resume classes even if there are challenges,” Briones added.
In a recorded message, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who in the past had ruled out face-to-face classes until a vaccine was available, described the start of the school year in the middle of a pandemic as “a momentous occasion.”
The Philippines is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in Southeast Asia. The virus has affected the country’s private schools, where enrollment has fallen by more than half, and more than 860 centers have had to be closed.
It is estimated that some 400,000 students have moved from private to public education, as many families believe that the economic cost of enrolling their children in private schools is not worth it if the classes are online.
In the Philippines, private schools were the most viable option for many middle-class families. In public schools, students receive fewer hours due to the lack of space and attend classes in shifts according to their levels. EFE-EPA