Could the Philippines Afford a Year Without School?

Philippines president Duterte recently stated that he will not allow schools to be opened this coming school year without a vaccine against the novel corona virus. Of course, without a vaccine in sight for at least 18 months from now, this suggests that schools may be closed for the entire school year. Distance learning is likewise not feasible since a large number of students do not have access to laptops and the internet. So, perhaps, the Philippines can use this time to reboot its educational system. After all, the past years have shown that basic education in the Philippines has been failing miserably.

Above copied from CNN Philippines

The COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, like in most countries in the globe, does not look promising. Testing is obviously not widely available in the Philippines so it is not known how widespread COVID-19 really is. As of today, less than 0.3 percent of the population have been tested and about 5 percent of those who have been tested turned positive. This is certainly much better than most states in the US, but with a very low testing rate and without random sampling, one cannot rely on the current data and trend. During the past 24 hours, the country just reported its highest number of cases discovered for a day, 539. 

Since COVID-19 has been widespread for the past few months, it is clear that person-to-person transmission occurs readily in indoor spaces. Even without social distancing of 6 feet between pupils, classrooms in schools in the Philippines are already overcrowded. Some schools even employ multiple shifts in some urban areas. The Philippines cannot possibly open schools without dramatically increasing the COVID-19 infection rate. Thus, the Philippines president is indeed justified to keep schools closed until a vaccine is available. 

This one year suspension of classes is a time that can be used to reexamine the basic educational system in the country. It is a time to look closely at the curriculum. It is an opportunity to address the technology challenges of the schools. If schools are closed, at least, someone should correct the numerous errors found in schools' textbooks. Perhaps, something could be achieved this year, something better than students spending another year in failing schools.