09/13/2021, 10.38
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Manila, Covid-19 torpedoes another school year

by Davide Cavalleri

The increase in infections has pushed authorities to reinstate a hard lockdown. Schools forced to restart with online teaching, but families cannot afford computers and connections. Father Caelli (PIME): "In Manila children are left on tehir own and many private schools are closing".




Manila (AsiaNews) - On paper, the return to class was scheduled for this morning. Instead, for Filipino children and teenagers it will still be distance learning, again for some time. The school year beginning today in the South-East Asian country promises to be another complicated one, full of difficulties that will inevitably be amplified in the enormous metropolitan city of Manila where, since August 6, the increase in contagions due to the Delta variant has pushed the authorities to declare a reinforced red zone with enormous restrictions for all commercial activities.

"At the national level, only 15% of the population has received the double dose of vaccine, while here in Manila, full immunization reaches the threshold of 30%, but we are talking about a metropolitan area that has more than 12 million inhabitants," says Father Simone Caelli, a PIME missionary for several years in the Philippines and now pastor of the church Mary Queen of Apostles in Parañaque City, on the outskirts of Manila.

"The city Hospitals  are collapsing: they no longer have beds because of the increase in contagions that are exceeding 15 thousand new cases a day."

In this context, schools are being forced to restart with the utmost caution and in compliance with anti-Covid prevention measures. "Private institutes have already restarted with online teaching - continues Fr. Simone - while public schools are restarting today".

It goes without saying that, given the situation of severe poverty in which the population is forced to live, only a limited number of students will be able to follow the lessons online; the others will continue with the "modules" experimented during the last school year, that is, texts and assignments prepared by teachers  which students study at home in total autonomy and without any supervision.

"Few families can afford to buy a computer and pay for an internet connection so that their children can follow the lessons online - admits the missionary - I can't quantify the number of children who will continue with the modules, but I can give this example: near our parish there is one of the largest public schools in the Philippines, we are talking about 11,000 students and about 50 classes per course. Talking with some teachers, I was told that only about fifteen classes (out of over 250) will benefit from the online courses, the others will be "abandoned" to the modules".

Naturally, this will lead to a considerable increase in early drop outs from school, which has already forced many institutes - especially private ones - to close.

"The school run by the nuns near my parish has suffered a significant drop in the number of pupils and I have news of some institutes run by religious who have had to close for lack of enrollment. The logical consequence of this situation is a further lowering of the level of education and of the quality of the educational system" he adds.

Fr. Simone points out: "Inevitably, when in a "normal" situation, teachers found themselves with classes of 50-60 students, imagine now, where the same number of students do not have the opportunity to attend classes and are forced to study at home.

The pandemic has dealt a huge blow to the Philippine economy, exponentially increasing the number of poor and destitute, as Fr. Caelli confirms: "Many of our parishioners lost their jobs during the lockdown and today they have nothing to live on. Although the government has provided financial aid to families in need, the number of people living below the poverty line is rising. Teachers themselves, for example, are struggling to make ends meet on a single paycheck." 

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