Schools and Tourism
No one will argue that the Philippines made significant steps to reopen the economy this year. The easing of restrictions stimulated business activities and generated jobs for millions of people.
Much, however, can be done before we can declare that the economy has fully recovered from the pandemic. For me, the resumption of onsite classes, along with the revival of the tourism sector, holds the key to full economic recovery. Aside from the short-term benefits, the return of Filipino students to campuses will avert what experts describe as a learning crisis that may affect our labor productivity five or 10 years from now.
The United Nations Children’s Fund has noted that the pandemic increased “learning poverty” by a third in low- and middle-income countries, where 70 percent of 10-year-olds show difficulty to understand a simple written text.
The number of new Covid-19 cases seems to be rising again, but this should not prevent the nationwide resumption of face-to-face or in-person classes. Vaccination or health protocols should remain our guide in the new normal, including the education of our children.
No less than the National Economic and Development Authority has warned that the Philippines faces an education crisis, and unless the government finds ways to reopen campuses safely, the sector and allied industries will continue to suffer.
The Neda has estimated that the reopening of 60,743 schools nationwide will boost economic activities by P12 billion a week in the forms of business and services that rely on education, such as transportation, accommodation, food, publication, garments, retail and others.
I, thus, welcome President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s plan to reopen several schools starting August and all education institutions nationwide by November. The plan involves the massive administration of anti-Covid jabs, which will raise the vaccination rate in the country above the current 70 percent.
The Philippine economy shrank by about P3.8 trillion in the last two years, according to Neda estimates. Most of the losses were incurred in sectors that were affected by mobility restrictions, including transportation, tourism and education.
It is a good thing the Internet made it easier for students to overcome challenges through the conduct of virtual classes. Not all Filipino students, however, have access to digital technology and devices such as computers, tablets or smartphones.
Students also lost touch with their classmates that may limit their personal, behavioral and social development. Much of the learning and development in school comes from interaction with other students.
Aside from education, the tourism sector’s contribution to the economy also collapsed at the height of the pandemic. The Neda estimated that tourism’s share to the gross domestic product dropped by P1.5 trillion in 2020, an amount that equates to millions of jobs, especially among the young generation.
We should support Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco’s plan to make the tourism industry “one of the major economic pillars for the Philippines” again. The Philippines teems with hundreds, if not thousands of travel destinations that, if adequately promoted, will bring economic benefits to local communities.
Tourism disperses business activities to other parts of the country, and residents in the provinces need not go to Metro Manila to look for jobs and livelihood opportunities. Among the outstanding tourism models are those of Baguio City, Cebu City and Boracay, which achieved high-income status, thanks to intensive promotion and infrastructure development.
The International Air Transport Association, a group of major airlines, noted the recovery in air travel heading into the busy Northern Hemisphere summer travel season. Air traffic in May 2022, as measured in revenue passenger kilometers, rose 83 percent from the same month last year. Global traffic also reached 68.7 percent of pre-pandemic levels, showing a steady recovery.
The easing of travel restrictions in most parts of Asia accelerated the recovery of international tourism, which jumped 325 percent in May 2022 from a year earlier. As the IATA declared, “completely removing all Covid-19 restrictions is the way forward.”
The Philippines is one of the countries that suffered dramatically from the loss of international visitors. Our international visitor arrivals plummeted 89 percent in 2021 to 163,879 from 1.48 million in 2020 and 8.26 million in 2019 before the pandemic.
While we may not regain the usual volume of international visitors soon, the steady improvement in travel restrictions, along with the continued observance of health protocols, will allow us to bring back more jobs in the travel and tourism sector.
The time to fully reopen the economy should begin now. We should safely reopen schools and support the revival of the tourism sector to regain our pre-pandemic growth level, and achieve the government’s medium-term annual GDP growth target of 7 percent to 8 percent.