Millions of Filipino children returned to school as the school year began on Monday, many of them seated in classrooms for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

The Philippines is one of the last countries in the world to resume full-time, in-person classes. Warnings were issued that the prolonged closure of classrooms has exacerbated the country’s education crisis.

Children in masks and uniforms lined up for temperature checks and squirts of hand sanitizer at Manila’s Pedro Guevara Elementary School, which has closed classrooms since March 2020.

The school adopted a hybrid system of in-person and distance learning to return nearly 6,000 students to face-to-face classes by November. The deadline was set two months ago by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. shortly after his inauguration.

Sixth grader Sophia Macahilig says she’s “excited” to see her classmates and teachers after two years of Zoom lessons.

“It used to be fun, but now it’s fun again,” 11-year-old Makahilig told AFP.

But many students have a lot of work to do.

Even before the pandemic, 9 out of 10 Filipino children “couldn’t understand and read simple texts” by the age of 10, according to a recent report by the World Bank and other agencies. says.

Only 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Laos, Chad and Yemen, had worsened.

Running late

After school closures in the Philippines, a “blended learning” program was introduced that included online classes, print, and classes broadcast on television and social media.

Even as face-to-face classes resume, old problems remain. Large classes, outdated teaching methods, poverty and lack of basic infrastructure such as toilets have been blamed for the educational crisis.

Ethel Tumanan, 32, a science teacher at Pedro Guevara, said he fears his students have missed out on valuable learning over the past two years.

“As teachers, we prefer to be face-to-face. At least we are the only ones who know where our students are and can assess them.”

Towards the reopening of classrooms, the government has stepped up its promotion of immunizations and will provide free public transport to students through the end of the calendar year.

On Saturday, the government began handing out cash aid to students and parents struggling to cover costs, leading to a chaotic scene outside distribution centers.

In Zamboanga, 29 people were injured as thousands tried to break through the gates of a high school.

Mikhail Flores and Cecil Morella

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