Reopening of Schools a Boon to the Economy
Almost everybody thinks that the reopening of face-to-face classes in the Philippines, although still limited, will lead to chaos, given the millions of students trooping back to learning institutions.
I do not totally disagree with this observation. One can imagine the huge traffic that the partial reopening of classes will create—but this is a sign of normalcy and a healthy development both for the mental health of our children and the economy in general.
Students going back to school and getting in touch with their classmates again are a big relief to the parents. They can now re-channel their energy to more productive activities, knowing that teachers can responsibly educate their children. Many parents, especially mothers, can re-join the labor sector and contribute their share to the growing economy.
Limited face-to-face classes started yesterday after more than two years of virtual learning. School-related activities prior to the re-opening of classes as a result have noticeably perked up. Traffic was a little heavy last week, while shopping malls and bookstores became the hub of parents and their children who were set to attend classes.
Students were obviously excited about the development. One can hear of stories about students going to the tailor shops to buy or fit their uniforms, and schoolgirls and schoolboys purchasing a new pair of shoes. Or parents haggling with operators of private school buses that will fetch their children from home to school and back.
Our transportation authorities are facing the challenge of the new normal. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board committed to open more than 100 “modified” routes starting yesterday to address the need for more buses and vehicles for the resumption of face-to-face classes. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, meanwhile, predicted the volume of vehicles along Edsa could balloon to 436,000 with the limited opening of face-to-face classes.
MMDA Task Force Special Operations chief Bong Nebrija last week was quoted as saying his group would deploy 581 personnel on roads leading to and near public schools. About 146 public schools in Metro Manila resumed face-to-face classes yesterday.
The resumption of in-person classes, although limited for now until November, will clearly boost the Philippine economy. As I have been saying in my previous columns, the resumption of in-person classes will have a trickle-down effect on the economy because about 40 percent of the Philippine population is of school age.
I just want to reiterate the economic benefits of reopening our school system. Opening all the nation’s 60,743 schools for in-person learning will increase economic activity by P12 billion a week, according to an earlier estimate of the National Economic and Development Authority.
Moreover, schools are economic hubs. They create services like transportation and board and lodging for students who come from the provinces. Schools give rise to food stalls and carts—mostly operated by small entrepreneurs—and add to the incomes of sari-sari stores, book outlets and other commercial establishments.
The expenditures of students, who by now are receiving allowances from their parents, will support the operations of shopping malls and fast-food outlets, which on several occasions have laid off workers or resorted to a skeleton staff during the height of the pandemic.
My column a few months back has stressed the impact of school activities on the economy. For one, the neighborly kindergarten schools in their own little way will boost economic activities. And so are the drivers of thousands of ubiquitous and yellow-colored school buses that fetch children from their homes to schools and vice versa. All told, and as the Neda estimated, the absence of schools or face-to-face classes and the services generated around them had cost the economy P22 trillion in the past two years.
Equally worrisome are the “lost” years of physical learning and the psychological impact on children. Students have lost touch with their classmates, which may limit their personal, behavioral and social development. Much of the learning and development in school comes from interaction with other students.
I am, thus, in full support of the decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to go ahead with the full resumption of face-to-face classes by November this year. It is an encouraging step to full normalcy.