Shortly after classes were delayed last year, Education Minister Leonor Briones reported to the Senate that only 2.1 million or less than half of the estimated 4.3 million students are enrolled in private schools. In addition, 865 of 14,435 private schools nationwide have ceased operations. She suspected that more than half of them were moving to public schools as the global coronavirus pandemic caused severe economic upheaval.
Last week the House of Representatives passed Bill 9913 of the House of Representatives, which allows private schools to take advantage of the ten percent preferential rate on taxable income, and also grants property schools the privilege to avail of the one percent special tax rate until 2020.
Even if favorable action by the Senate could ultimately ensure that the tax breaks sought by private school owners are implemented, the far-reaching effects of the COVID-related economic slowdown are still noticeable in science.
The Bayanihan 2 law, passed last year, provided around 600 million pesos to teachers and students. Teachers and school workers who were evicted or had to accept a pay cut received financial aid ranging from 5,000 to 8,000 pesos. The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) awarded grants of 5,000 pesos to around 54,000 college students.
Looking ahead to the new school year, Secretary Briones said she hoped this year’s school enrollment would “at least match” last year’s numbers as the country continues to fight the persistent transmission of COVID disease despite increased vaccination efforts. This means that around 2 million learners would not attend school for the second year in a row.
The plight of private schools is a microcosm of the harsh effects of the national health emergency on the education system. With public schools reopening next month, the challenges of implementing blended learning will come back to the fore.
Has the government allocated enough resources to overcome the serious difficulties students, teachers and administrators faced in the final school year? Are there adequate modules or learning materials in paper form or will many schools again have to rely on the support of civil society and private volunteer organizations? Has the Internet connection been improved enough to minimize interruptions in the delivery of virtual classes? Have parents been given sufficient guidance and training to support home schooling for their young children? Do teachers have the basic equipment and materials to teach appropriately?
In addition to improving blended learning, it is imperative that priority is given to safely reopening schools as vaccination efforts allow for improved community protection or herd immunity. In a study published last April, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) found that closed schools deprived younger students of important cognitive, social, physical and emotional skills that could threaten their future career prospects.
Far more than the financial sustainability of private schools is severely affected by the coronavirus infection. It has affected the spiritual development of our youth. The country’s leaders must take serious care to develop a workable action plan that will allow schools to reopen and students to resume learning in a better normal scenario.
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