The country is paying a steep price for President Duterte’s simplistic reasoning and fondness for expedient solutions. Let me cite some examples.
In his COVID-19 response, scientific containment measures were not pursued with the urgency they deserved. He even said that mass testing is not important. Rather, Mr. Duterte decided to impose the world’s longest and most restrictive lockdown to quell the virus. This was his ultimate solution.
No surprise then that even after 18 months, government has not rolled-out a nationwide COVID testing network that is affordable and accessible to all. Neither has it established a functioning tracking and tracing system (StaySafe.ph is plagued with software bugs and not widely used). Medical capacities were not significantly augmented and supplies of COVID meds such as Tocilizumab, Remdesivir and Avigan were not built up. As for vaccination, the Philippines is last in the region, along with Myanmar, in terms of percentage of the population vaccinated.
Although his intentions may have been good, Mr. Duterte’s simplistic prescription (the long protracted militaristic lockdown) failed to flatten the infection curve. Instead, it flattened the economy.
Another example of simplistic reasoning is how he related the drug problem to economic development. Mr. Duterte peddled the idea that if the illegal drug trade was terminated, the economy would boom, investors would come in droves, poverty would be eliminated, and all of us would be more affluent. What he failed to appreciate is that peace and order is only a small part of the equation. There are more important issues that must be addressed, not the least of which is ease in doing business, sanctity of contracts, a non-politicized legal system, supply chain linkages, labor capacitation, etc. Not giving due priority to these issues caused the economy to decelerate even before the pandemic.
Lamentably, our young learners and their parents are the severest casualties of Mr. Duterte’s simplistic reasoning. While the rest of the world kept their schools closed for an average of only 79 school days, Mr. Duterte has kept our children out of school for a staggering 18 months and running. As of Sept. 8, UNICEF announced that only two countries in the world have kept their schools closed, the Philippines and Venezuela. Although Mr. Duterte finally acceded to open 120 schools for face-to-face learning on a trial basis, 18 months of child imprisonment has already inflicted immeasurable mental and emotional damage to both children and parents. The permission granted to 120 schools is too insignificant to make an impact.
To be fair, both the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases) and DepEd (Department of Education) twice recommended that schools be reopened. They did so last December and again last February. It was the President’s decision to keep the schools closed despite safety protocols offered by the IATF. For him, it was all about controlling the virus spread, never mind the dire consequences of out-of-school learning.
What exactly are these consequences?
A UNICEF study affirms that kinder to grade three schooling sets-up the building blocks of a child’s future learning since it forms the foundation of reading, writing, and math. In-person learning, in these formative years, helps children gain independence, adapt to new routines, and develop meaningful relationships with teachers and peers. It enables teachers to identify and address learning delays, mental health issues, and child abuse that could negatively affect the children’s development. Our young learners were deprived of this.
Moreover, school experiences are predictors of a child’s future social, emotional, and educational outcomes. Children who fall behind in learning during their formative years often stay behind for the remaining time they spend in school. The learning gap widens over the years.
Studies show that 47.7% of children who learn from home do not actually understand their lessons. This is because teachers are unable to correct misunderstanding and clarify gray areas. Statistics further show that half the modules complete by home learners are riddled with grammatical and mathematical errors which remain uncorrected.
The UNICEF study also affirmed that prolonged closure of schools could lead to increased drop outs. True enough, a whopping 1.1 million Filipino students dropped out of school this year, many of whom have become victims of child labor and child marriage. Meanwhile, 865 private schools in the Philippines have already closed due to the long, protracted lockdown.
Mental and emotional distress on the part of the students and parents are another consequence.
As much as 54% of students reported suffering from anxiety, depression and panic disorder as a result of the long, hard lockdown. An uncomfortable number have begun to manifest nervous ticks, meltdowns, and some have attempted suicide. In the midst of the child’s suffering, they are deprived of seeking solace/advise from their teachers and peers. Children have never been more alone as they are today and it is taking a toll on their mental well-being.
Parents of home learners are the pandemic lockdown’s collateral damage too. On top of worrying about their family members getting infected by COVID, job security weighs heavy on parents minds as well. Despite all the stress, they must still assume the role of being their children’s primary educator. The mental and financial stresses on parents is intense, especially those that had to quit their jobs just to educate their children. Many parents have reported extreme fatigue and have themselves become mentally unwell. One out of three families claim that home learning has strained relationships within the family.
Many parents, especially in the countryside, may not be educated themselves. Having to teach their children lessons they do not understand has caused failing grades on the part of the student and mental anguish on the part of the parent.
This proves that good intentions, without scientific reasoning, can be just as damaging as bad intentions. It also proves that there is no short cut or quick fix solutions to complex social problems.
Mr. Duterte was elected on the back of promises to solve the country’s problems with expediency. Now we know that expediency, without scientific reasoning and processes, do not work. In fact, they backfire. How unfortunate that our youngsters must pay the price for this.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist