Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, Los Niños Inocentes, the very first martyrs in Christian religions. In Europe it is called Childermas or the Mass for the Children.
The Christmas narrative in the New Testament of the Holy Bible relates how King Herod found out from the three visiting Magi that the Child was born who was King of the Jews according to the prophecies. Herod made them promise to return to him and confirm the Child’s birth after they had paid homage in Bethlehem. But the Magi did not.
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)
Soon after the visit by the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus. And if power was the consuming obsession of Herod, then the survival of a little Child is the most powerful symbol of continuing Hope amidst trials of the present in the uncertainties of the future. Even in nonsectarian symbolism, a child is Hope. Children are our future.
In this most uncertain future for an entire world plagued in the last nine months with the fear and actual danger of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, Christmas came quietly, unlike the rowdy celebrations in the past. The silence and isolation of the quarantines have given time and space for introspection. What will happen next, or when will anything happen to end the anxieties for one’s self, and for the future for loved ones and family? We all know that the world has been changed socially, economically, and politically by the protracted pandemic. We will never be the same persons again individually, even as the collective consciousness is likewise morphing into a yet indeterminable better or worse — morally, intellectually, and spiritually. Hopefully, better.
Is there Hope? In the spirit of Christmas, there must be. And in the remembrance of the Biblical “Killing of the Innocents” we focus on children as our symbol of Hope for the future for us all, and specially for them. But children are so vulnerable, as Hope is challenged in the uncertain future post the pandemic.
Dr. Karen Wagner reported (in psychiatrictimes.com on Oct. 8) on the alarming increase of depression and anxiety in children as the pandemic stretched on and on, and quarantines were prolonged. In a study of Italy and Spain, 85.7% of parents reported changes in their children’s emotions and behavior during the quarantine. Yet the anxiety of children may come from the subconscious absorption of the parents’ anxieties and fears for health and for loss of income to support the family and from explosions of pent-up emotions in what may be claustrophobia to the unaccustomed tight closeness of the home.
Loneliness in lockdown is common for kids separated from their friends. “For school-agers and teens, being with parents is all downside, and being with friends is everything. In the case of the pandemic, that essential socializing (is missed),” said the aforementioned article on COVID effects on the family. School, with its built-in peer socialization to the max, would have been an outlet for the young people.
As of May, over 28 million learners in the Philippines have been affected by school closures in the attempt to contain the spread of the deadly virus, data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) showed. School year (SY) 2019-2020 closed haphazardly in March when the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Department of Education (DepEd) worried about 24,861,728 elementary (primary) and high school (secondary) and the 3,589,484 college (tertiary) level students idly waiting five months until Aug. 24 for the new school year, which will end on April 30, 2021.
Some 440 private schools in the country ceased operations in SY 2020-2021 due to low enrollment turnout in the pandemic, according to the DepEd. Around 1.7 million learners have registered in private schools, 41.7% of the total number of private school students last year. Nearly 400,000 private school students have also transferred to public schools.
“Blended learning” through internet online learning platforms, radio, and television has been installed as the means of instruction. The DepEd set up a learning management system (LMS) where teachers can create online classes and schedule online activities and collaborative tasks which can be monitored. LMS can be accessed through a browser or a mobile application and it is zero-rated with the telecommunications companies so that learners need not pay for data to access it with their smartphones. It was announced that about 93% of public schools nationwide already have computers, laptops, tablets, sourced by local government units (LGUs) or from private donors, that can be used by learners.
But educational inclusion in online learning is not easy in a small developing country where the very poor are in remote areas where there may not be cellphone signals or reliable internet connection even if somehow they would have the electronic gadgets to use for this. Printed learning materials will have to be delivered to them through gigantic effort by teachers, who themselves would be poor (if they worked in such disadvantaged conditions). It was recommended by the DepEd that a modified face-to-face teaching be allowed in such areas where internet service is unavailable or unreliable. This was disapproved by the Inter-agency Task Force (IATF) over the weekend, as a new variant of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was officially recognized by the Department of Health (DoH) and social distancing rules were reinforced.
DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones admitted that the role of family in the current system of delivering education is larger because children learning online would depend heavily on parents for close guidance and monitoring, and even rigid tutoring on the learning modules distributed according to grade level of their children. But how to do this if parents have limited education and resources?
The decline in household incomes has affected family well-being second to the fear of contagion by the coronavirus. In May, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III admitted before a Senate Committee meeting that 10 million workers, mostly in the service and transportation sectors will have lost their jobs until the end of 2020 (which is now). About one million Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) will be jobless and home, newspapers announced then. There have been no official updates on joblessness, perhaps because of the panic potential of such news.
The government must help parents carry out magnified roles of nurturing and guiding the hope of the country’s future — the children — who must be molded in the values and the mental preparation to carry on in the evolving New Now. For this, the DepEd secured a P605.7-billion budget for fiscal year 2021, 55% lower than its proposed P1.1 trillion budget, but 9.5% higher than its P552.9 billion budget in 2020. The 2021 Expenditure Budget is pending approval of the President.
Might it not be like Joseph and Mary saving The Child from the massacre of the Innocents, as this ruthless coronavirus that has threatened Hope for survival and finally, Peace? Children are our future.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.