Philippines' Basic Education Problems: COVID-19 and Beyond

I still teach my class remotely. With a large class of more than a hundred students, it is very difficult to implement contact tracing in case a student in my class does test positive for the coronavirus. I do not like teaching remotely. I am not able to receive instant feedback by simply observing the expressions on my students' faces. The pandemic does bring some new challenges in both teaching and learning. The situation in the Philippines, however, is different. What the current pandemic has magnified are the same persistent problems basic education in the Philippines faces. With schools not having adequate restrooms or wash stations, it is not really easy to attend to the necessary hygiene measures. With crowded classrooms and high pupil to teacher ratios, it is not really possible to keep an eye on each student and maintain social distance. The lack of resources (school facilities and learning materials) exists even before the pandemic. And as important, children not finding an environment conducive to learning in their homes is a common scenario even without the novel coronavirus. The pandemic only highlights these existing problems.

It is easy to jump into the conclusion that the continuing lack of face-to-face classrooms in the Philippines will have dire consequences for the future of the nation. What is difficult to realize during this time is that with and without the pandemic, Philippine basic education remains in dire straits. As an exercise, one can look at a study made by Yoonyoung Cho and coworkers for the World Bank. In "Philippine Basic Education System : Strengthening Effective Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Beyond", the study has the following figure summarizing the barriers to effective learning during COVID-19 in the Philippines:

Lack of access to gadget is an easy culprit to pick especially amidst online learning. However, in face-to-face classroom, learning materials are likewise necessary. It is really impossible to learn biology, chemistry and physics without a laboratory. Children apparently find it difficult to focus without adult supervision. Well, in in-person classrooms, the teacher who is buried under tons of administrative tasks cannot really pay attention to a classroom with so many students. Children who do not have internet access of course find it very difficult to engage in online learning. Actually, children who have no access to libraries, textbooks, resource persons, find it impossible to engage in any mode of learning. It is a litany of barriers of learning but what we may easily fail to see is that it is the same list whether we are or we are not facing a pandemic.