THE high drop-out rate in the K-12 system has reset the school population to levels not seen in nearly a decade, economists from Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines said.

In a policy briefing, “Urgent Need to Address Massive Drop-off in K-12 Enrolment,” Geoffrey M. Ducanes and Edita A. Tan of the Ateneo de Manila University and University of the Philippines Diliman, respectively, added that those discontinuing their schooling are less likely to resume their studies and will experience long-term impacts on their future earning capacity.

“Those who drop out this school-year are likely to have a reduced chance of returning to school even after the pandemic ends,” the authors said.

Even students who return to school next year will have fallen behind on key subjects like mathematics, they said.

According to the Department of Education, K-12 enrolment for the 2020-2021 academic year declined 14%, equivalent to 3.8 million pupils, to 23.2 million.

“This sets back enrollment levels in basic education by a decade, or to less than what it was in (school year) 2011-12, and increases the number of out-of-school children in the K-12 age-range about five-fold to around five million,” Mr. Ducanes and Ms. Tan said.

It said private schools have been hit disproportionately as parents’ finances suffered, with total enrollment plunging 60%, reflecting an exodus to public schools.

The economists recommended the expansion and enhancement the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program, a cash transfer scheme for low-income families.

“Expansion means the coverage of more households, particularly those that have recently fallen into poverty,” it said.

“Enhancement means an increase in the amount of cash transfer provided to poor households conditional on the enrollment of their child members,” it added.

Using this approach, the government can increase enrollment and provide cash support for those facing hunger due to the crisis.

They also backed continuing school-based feeding programs for undernourished students in pre-school and elementary. The program provides rations for delivery to households or pick-up by parents. Similar programs are in place in Colombia and Congo, with access to meals seen as a motivation for parents to keep their children in school.

They recommended building internet hubs in poor barangays as well as supplying devices and mobile data allowances. — Luz Wendy T. Noble