'Learning poverty'

"Too many Filipino children are not able to read and understand simple text by age 10."


One of the unintended consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we have realized only recently, apart from the high death rate (nearly 49,000, and counting), almost 3 million cases reported since March last year, as well as the economic disaster it unleashed, is what the World Bank has described as "learning poverty."

The international funding institution defines "learning poverty" as being unable to read and understand simple text by age 10, which it says has been pushed to a new high of 90 percent this year.

And what is the immediate cause of this phenomenon?

It's a complicated one.

Because of COVID-19, the government imposed one of the most stringent and longest lockdowns in this part of Asia.

With mobility curtailed, we stopped in-person schooling and relied mainly on online classes or a hybrid version where students answered learning modules or watched television or listened to the radio for lessons.

The report said children should be able to read by age 10 since reading opens the gates for learning in other areas such as math, science and the humanities as they go through various school levels.

While it is possible for children to catch up with learning later in life with ample effort, the bank pointed out that children who cannot read by age 10 or by the end of primary school usually fail to master reading later on in school.

Only recently, the Department of Education (DepEd) has started to implement pilot face-to-face classes in selected schools in areas with the lowest risks of COVID-19 transmission. This makes us the last country in the world to resume in-person schooling.

I understand that the Secretary of Education is a member of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that comes up with policies aimed at responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The question thus needs to be asked: Did the Dep-Ed argue enough with the other IATF members that prolonged lockdowns that we have had for nearly two years now would have a deleterious effect on the ability of school-age children to be able to read and understand what they are able to read?

Apparently not, as most decisions of the IATF that the president mumbled every time he went on air in his midnight sessions with selected Cabinet members centered on the imposition of various levels of lockdowns and the accompanying restrictions on mobility.

By the way, why are the meetings of the Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID), an adhoc body composed of more than two dozen officials from various departments and agencies, held in secret? That information came from the Malacañang mouthpiece himself recently, and that left us wondering: Why?

If this select group of men and women from the government decides on the fate of 110 million Filipinos, don't we deserve to know what issues were discussed, who took sides in the discussions, who argued for the draconian lockdown restrictions and who didn't? Were the people from the economic bloc outvoted by those in the security cluster, so that we have earned the dubious distinction of having the strictest lockdown in the world yet were not able to control the spread of the deadly disease to levels in countries with less stringent policies?


What should we make of two recent incidents in Ayungin Shoal where Philippine vessels were harassed and shooed away by the Chinese Coast Guard when they tried to bring food and other supplies to a small contingent of troops stationed in a derelict ship, BRP Sierra Madre, being used by our Navy as an outpost to defend our sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea?

It's clear by now that Beijing considers the Philippines as a "frenemy," a recent portmanteau of "friend" and "enemy," on the particular issue of the South China Sea territorial dispute. Except that I don't really know when they consider us friend first and enemy second, or enemy first and friend second.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, however, was inclined toward the latter, as he told media that the Philippine vessels violated Chinese territory and therefore deserved what they got.

After the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a diplomatic protest, Chinese ambassador Huang Xilian assured Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana of safe passage for the Philippine boats after the first incident last week’s harassment by the China coast guard.

The Chinese envoy, however, imposed a condition for allowing the Philippine mission to go unimpeded: The boats had to sail without navy or coast guard escorts.

The second time around, the Philippine vessels managed to reach Ayungin Shoal and deliver their precious cargo to our soldiers, but not after the Chinese took photos and videos.

Which, as Secretary Lorenzana said afterwards, nevertheless was tantamount to harassment and intimidation.

I fully agree with maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batongbacal that the Philippines should not have yielded to the conditions of the Chinese.

“Ideally we should not be subject to any conditions, least of all conditions they impose...Whether it raises tensions or not is their problem, it should never be ours. They are the ones who have no right to be there.”

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , World Bank , learning poverty , COVID-19 pandemic , Ayungin Shoal , Chinese Coast Guad , BRP Sierra Madre , West Philippine Sea
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