March 18th (2021), marks exactly 371 days since the first school closed its doors to students in the Philippines. By the end of March 2020, all public schools, which support 25 Million students, were closed due to COVID-19.
One year on, all public schools remain shut for regular classes with being no plan to reopen until vaccines are available. According to a recent report by WHO, this might not be before 2023, at the earliest.
In order to keep learning, children are required to study from their homes, often without access to online resources or teacher support. Before COVID-19, five out of ten families were deprived of access to basic education. The onset of the pandemic and subsequent closure of schools has exacerbated the education emergency for millions of children.
In an effort to combat the education (and protection) emergency for children and youth, FundLife, like many small but committed groups, continue to try and stop the increasing tide of children who are losing interest and support to continue with formal education. In Leyte, where displaced youth still await construction of new schools that were planned after Super Typhoon Haiyan (Nov 2013), FundLife is creating ‘safe learning spaces’, allowing children to receive SEL and physical education in a safe and supportive environment. But, this is restricted to 40 students per day, leaving another 119,800 children who do not even this basic service to a table and teacher.
In Cebu, the Philippines second most populous city and considered one of the global hubs for online exploitation against adolescent girls, FundLife launched the Girls Got This ‘Works’ and ‘Resiliency in Action’ programs focused on providing employability training and Safe-at-Home packs for a further 750 highly vulnerable adolescent girls. However, as the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues to worsen, so too does the desperation of families to provide food. This puts even further danger for the adolescent girls who cannot return to school, especially as 82% of all online exploitation is perpetrated by parents or direct family members.
While there is no getting away from the dark reality so many children and youth face because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraged by the countless committed people from local government, community, businesses and those who stand untitled but united in helping children stay hopeful and in pursuit of education - and their dreams. The challenge is to ensure more can be done to help these heroes on the ground. It's not an impossible challenge if a will from the top would exist.
In a world where we are saturated by noise and led by media headlines ahead of in-community impact, we must recalibrate a way to empower those who create leaders, and not simply generate a blind following through carefully crafted slogans. In the end, we must find ways to protect children and save education, because right now we are failing.
As social systems and the breakdown of traditional politics around the world continue to teach us, we will never find common ground on everything, but we must agree that a world without education is not a world we should ever accept as normal.