A Long-Awaited Return

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A tropical storm forced schools in the northern Philippines to shutter their doors this week, shortly after students around the country returned to in-person classes following two years of COVID-19 lockdown and Zoom-based class sessions, CNN reported.

Tropical storm Ma On – known as “Florita” in the Philippines – made landfall in the Isabela province Tuesday morning, prompting authorities to issue warnings of widespread flooding and landslides.

The closures came just one day after millions of children across the Philippines had returned to primary and secondary schools for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit two years ago.

The country was one of the worst hit by the pandemic in Southeast Asia, prompting then-President Rodrigo Duterte to impose one of the world’s longest lockdowns and school closures.

Out of fear of new outbreaks, he refused calls to reopen in-person classes during his six-year term, which ended on June 30.

While his decision may have prevented further outbreaks, it sparked fears that literacy rates among Filipino children – which already had reached alarming levels before the pandemic – would worsen, Al Jazeera noted.

According to a 2021 World Bank study, nine out of ten children suffered from the inability to read and understand simple stories, also known as ‘learning poverty’. Additionally, there is a growing fear that the two-year lockdown has made children lose interest in learning.

Still, the UN agency for children (UNICEF) welcomed the reopening as a “great step in the right direction.”

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