Schools are an Integral Part of the Economy
There is no reason why we should continue banning face-to-face classes when daily Covid-19 cases in the Philippines have sunk to the low numbers. Resuming in-person classes even under Alert Level 1 will have a clear trickle-down effect on the economy because about 40 percent of the Philippine population is of school age.
The economic cost of keeping our children physically away from their schools and universities cannot be overstated. Opening all the nation’s 60,743 schools for in-person learning will increase economic activity by P12 billion a week, per the estimate of the National Economic and Development Authority. The figure is on top of the estimated P6.5 billion worth of economic activities being generated each week that the entire nation is under Alert Level 1.
Schools on their own are an economic hub. 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.
Students will need to buy new clothes, bags, and shoes after being cooped up for two years in their residences. Their spending will boost the operations of shopping malls and fast-food outlets, which have on several occasions laid off their workers or resorted to a skeleton staff during the height of the pandemic.
Open kindergarten schools in the neighborhoods in their own little way also add to 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 it, 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.
Falling daily Covid-19 cases and the increasing vaccination rate of Filipino children provide a good argument for the reopening of face-to-face learning, where education is way better than online classes. The quality of education in online setups leaves much to be desired. Moreover, the poorest of the poor, especially in the countryside, have a hard time gaining access to education simply because they do not have the wherewithal for online schooling.
We also have heard of parents struggling to cope with online classes. About one-fourth of parents have decided to stay home to help their children in their modular classes. The setup has limited the job opportunities for some parents who have to stay home to help in the education of their children. The resumption of face-to-face classes, thus, will help in the overall recovery of the economy, free up the manpower stuck in homes and maximize the benefits of Alert Level 1.
Keeping students at home and closing down schools despite the improving Covid-19 situation will soon haunt the Philippines and endanger the future of our youth. I am disturbed by a World Bank report in January that warned Third World countries about school closures during the pandemic.
School closures, according to the bank, have caused large and persistent damage to children’s learning and wellbeing, the cost of which will be felt for decades to come. The report co-released by the World Bank warned that the short- and long-term impact of the Covid-19 crisis on children’s education, wellbeing, and future productivity is profound.
The report added that “while many other sectors have rebounded when lockdowns ease, the damage to children’s education is likely to reduce children’s wellbeing, including mental health, and productivity for decades, making education disruption one of the biggest threats to medium- and long-term recovery from Covid-19 unless governments act swiftly.” The report urged governments to take urgent steps to limit the damage.
Our high literacy rate and advantage as an English-speaking country, meanwhile, have served us in good stead in several labor markets. This advantage, however, may be fleeting if we don’t resume in-person classes and keep our students in the confines of their homes.