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Another casualty in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is our formal education system. The month of June every year is usually the time when millions of Filipino students troop back to their schools and learn. But because COVID-19 prevents any possibility of face-to-face learning, the Department of Education (DepEd) postponed the opening of classes to August 24, 2020. In addition, it has mandated online schooling in lieu of the traditional classroom setting.


The opening of classes was further deferred to October 5, 2020, by President Rodrigo Duterte in order to give more time to the DepEd to prepare online modules and other requirements for the online system of learning.


Let us be clear. This is not a problem unique to the Philippines. This is a global issue. The United Nations has recently pointed out that the “COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents.” The UN report added that the “closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle-income countries.”


Many people have already referred to this batch of learners as the “lost generation.” Studies have suggested that missing even just one year of school translates to lost years' worth of academic gains. This would obviously also impact the skills and knowledge of this generation of learners which are crucial to gainful employment and future income. A World Bank study has estimated that every additional year of schooling has a corresponding return of 8-10 percent of a student’s future income.


I completely agree. But I also think that while formal schooling is very important, we should not underestimate the value of non-formal learning. In other words, despite the problems posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, learning should not stop and this generation should not be lost. I will repeat, formal schooling is very crucial, but learning should not be limited to a face-to-face school environment.


Our home, with our parents, is our first school. It is the setting where we learn not only our first words but the language of life and our very first value system. Our schools, of course, reinforce these learnings but it is in the safety of home where we first learn.


In my case, learning took place in our Tondo home and the stalls of the market in Divisoria where my mother, Nanay Curing, would take me an early morning to help her sell shrimps and fish at a very young age. That was my classroom. That was where I learned the value of hard work and persistence. That was where my mother would tell me that doing the right thing, not shortchanging your customers, are surefire ingredients to success.


And from there, from that foundational learning, I began to apply that value system when my world expanded beyond the home and the market. I am not suggesting that informal learning is better than formal schooling. I am saying that both can complement each other.


Maybe we can use the disruption to strengthen the value system of our kids. Let us talk to them about the value of hard work, diligence, and persistence. In fact, I think this is the perfect time to instill the entrepreneurial spirit in our kids. When children see their fathers and mothers, recently unemployed, rise to the challenge and set up a small business in order to make a living, does it not imbue them with self-reliance and thought that they can conquer all hardships?


And the schools can help the community by helping parents with some structure in this informal learning setting. I have always believed that formal schooling and the informal one—some call it the School of Hard Knocks—should work in harmony. This pandemic will give us, in fact, force us, to confront the importance of parents, of our homes in making sure that this will not be a “lost generation” but a generation of entrepreneurs, hardworking, and passionate to provide solutions to the problems of their community.



Manila Bulletin/Views/MannyVillar