Philippine schools reopen after one of world’s longest shutdowns

MILLIONS of children in the Philippines have returned to primary and secondary schools for their first in-person classes since the COVID-19 pandemic hit two years ago.

In schools across the country on Monday, students in masks and uniforms lined up for temperature checks as they returned to their classrooms.

In the Guevara Elementary School in Manila, which had shut classrooms since March 2020, sixth grader Sophie Macahilig said she was “excited” to meet her classmates and teachers after two years of Zoom lessons.

“We used to have fun and now I can have fun again,” the 11-year-old told the AFP news agency.

The Philippines is one of the last countries in the world to resume full-time, in-person lessons – sparking warnings that the prolonged closure of classrooms had worsened an education crisis in the country.

The country was among the worst hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia, and then-President Rodrigo Duterte enforced one of the world’s longest coronavirus lockdowns and school closures. Duterte, whose six-year term ended on June 30, had turned down calls for reopening in-person classes due to fears it might ignite new outbreaks.

The prolonged school closures sparked fears that literacy rates among Filipino children – which were already at alarming levels before the pandemic – could worsen. A World Bank study last year showed that about nine of 10 children in the Philippines were suffering from “learning poverty”, the inability of children by age 10 to read and understand a simple story.

Vladimir Quetua, the national chair of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines, told Al Jazeera that many students have lost skills, as well as their interest in studying.

“Generally, the impact of these two years has been the quality of education. Some of our grade eight students, [do not know] how to write, how to compute numbers. And many of our students lack interest in studying at all,” he said.