ADB warns of slower economic growth, job losses due to prolonged school closures
MANILA, Philippines — Prolonged school closures — including one of the longest, currently ongoing in the Philippines — would not only slow economic growth but also shed jobs across the Asia-Pacific region even a decade after COVID-19 spread and became a pandemic, the Manila-based multilateral lender Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.
No less than the country’s chief economist — Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua himself during a chat with reporters last week attested to the subpar quality of online classes compared with face-to-face schooling, hence expressed worries about his only son’s, as well as millions of Filipino school children’s future.
“Severe disruptions in school education during the COVID–19 pandemic has impacted children through their formative years, which will affect their employment opportunities and earning potential for many years after school ages,” the ADB’s economics working paper titled “Potential Economic Impact of COVID-19-related School Closures” published on Friday read.
The ADB’s estimates showed that school closures would not just slash global gross domestic product (GDP) and employment — these losses were also projected to increase over time.
According to the ADB, global GDP will be reduced by 0.19 percent in 2024, 0.64 percent in 2028, and 1.11 percent in 2030, as a result of the prolonged lower quality of distance schooling compared to in-person classes. “In absolute terms, the cost to the global economy in 2030 alone is $943 billion,” the ADB said.
“The scarring effects are greater in economies with significant student populations from rural areas, those in the poorest and second wealth quintile. Learning and earning losses are also significant in economies where the share of unskilled labor employment in the overall labor force is high,” the ADB added.
In the Philippines, the ADB calculated prolonged school closures would result in 4.5-percent earning losses among an estimated 32.44 million in unskilled labor exceeding about 10.09 million skilled laborers in the country by 2030.
The ADB also estimated the Philippines’ GDP to be lower by 3.27 percent — equivalent to foregone output of about $11.38 billion — in 2030, as it was among the countries in the region where school enrolment in rural areas was considerably high.
Both skilled and unskilled employment in the Philippines would also be reduced by 2.316 percent and 2.379 percent by 2030, based on ADB estimates.
Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) last week reiterated the need to resume all face-to-face classes nationwide.
“A significant piece missing in our recovery is the resumption of face-to-face schooling. More than the foregone economic activity due to school closures, we are very much concerned about the learning loss and impact on future productivity of our children,” Chua said after announcing that the Philippines’ economic growth during the first quarter was a better-than-expected 8.3 percent year-on-year, notwithstanding an Omicron surge that reinstated stricter pandemic restrictions at the start of this year.
“Under alert level 1, children are allowed to engage in leisure and recreational activities in all indoor and outdoor venues, but the most important activity of children — studying — continues to be restricted,” Chua pointed out.
“We reiterate our call for the urgent resumption of face-to-face schooling plus a catch-up plan to regain lost learning in the past two years. This will help secure better opportunities for future generations and ensure that our demographic dividends will not be wasted,” Chua said.
Neda’s estimates had shown that a school year when students were unable to attend face-to-face classes would inflict P11 trillion in productivity losses across a 40-year period of a person’s working life span.
United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) estimates last March also showed that only less than 15 percent of school children in the Philippines can read simple texts, a bit better than in November of last year, when the World Bank revealed that remote learning aggravated learning poverty in the Philippines to as high as 90 percent. Learning poverty — the share of 10-year-olds who cannot read nor understand a simple story — in the country was already 69.5 percent in 2019 or before the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
Chua’s actually a hands-on father to his six-year-old son, Keid Ashby. The Inquirer earlier on learned that the elder Chua would first join the younger’s kindergarten classes early on weekday mornings before he, as Neda chief, goes to work for the rest of the day — sometimes up to late at night, especially during Cabinet meetings with President Duterte.
During last Thursday’s first-quarter GDP press briefing, Chua said he had free time in the morning because Keid Ashby’s on summer break. But Chua said even his son needed catch-up or make-up classes.
“Because of the online schooling, he [Keid Ashby] is short by two-and-a-half hours per week, compared to face-to-face. So quantity-wise, there’s an impact. Then, he is also short in all other aspects — physical education and social skills,” Chua lamented.
“I think you can learn intellectually from the laptop screen, but you’re short everywhere else,” Chua said.
Chua guides Keid Ashby so he can focus with school work — since a real teacher’s not physically around, he acts like his son’s teacher during online classes. “The teacher on the screen cannot call on anyone, so I sit there, I do my work, I check my emails, I give instructions to my staff, while making sure he focuses.”
Since Keid Ashby already spends his mornings facing a computer screen for online classes, Chua makes it a point to limit his son’s use of gadgets — only after lunch and before dinner time — but the kid gets “bored to death.”
“I don’t like him to spend 12 hours a day on the screen. But I’m at work; he needs alternative [activities]. If he can’t meet his friends, and he has no [school] friends for two years, what can he do?” Chua said.
Last Thursday, for instance, as Chua prepared for the press conference, Keid Ashby told his dad upon waking up at seven in the morning: “Daddy, I’m so bored! Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored!”
Unfortunately for Keid Ashby, who finds his dad as a playmate to be “very interesting,” Chua cannot always stay at home as he has a huge responsibility to shepherd the pandemic-battered economy to recovery.
Citing recent Neda estimates, Chua had said that the economy was losing about P12 billion in productive output — including business activities around schools — a week because most learning institutions remained closed.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.