MANILA (AFP) - The Philippines will fully reopen all schools in November for the first time in more than two years, as experts warn of a growing education crisis sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We have a plan for full face-to-face (schooling) by November of this year," President Ferdinand Marcos Jr told reporters on Tuesday (July 5).
"Let's get this done quickly. Of course we're careful, but we're always in a hurry because we have to get much done in very little time," he said.
The Philippines is one of the last to resume full-time, in-person classes since the pandemic began, with schools shuttered in March 2020 in tandem with lengthy lockdowns.
The United Nations children's agency Unicef has warned that school closures have caused enormous losses in education around the world, with some governments slow to reopen classrooms even as vaccination rates increase.
Mr Marcos Jr said school reopenings would start from September and ramp up rapidly over the following two months, accompanied by a vaccination campaign.
About 64 per cent of the country's population of 110 million are already fully vaccinated.
Former president Rodrigo Duterte allowed children to return to classrooms in just 100 schools out of more than 61,000 in November last year, but ruled out a full resumption before his term ended last month, citing health concerns.
The policy was seen by critics as exacerbating an education crisis in the country.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers secretary-general Raymond Basilio welcomed the new government's announcement.
"Our teachers have seen a terrible loss of learning since 2020 that is exacerbating poverty," he said.
Mr Basilio said some teachers in the association had complained that a number of elementary and even high school students still could not read or write.
He said the government's "blended" learning programme - involving online classes, printed materials and lessons broadcast on television and social media - was "problematic".
Modules were poorly vetted, and young Filipinos had limited Internet access, he said.
A report published jointly last month by Unicef and other agencies said the pandemic had increased "learning poverty" by a third in low- and middle-income countries, with an estimated 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to understand a simple written text.
"Put in strictly economic terms, unless we take action to recover learning, this generation of students is at risk of losing US$21 trillion (S$29 trillion) in potential lifetime earnings," Unicef executive director Catherine Russell said last month.
Last year, 15-year-olds in the Philippines were at or near the bottom in reading, mathematics and science.