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Why school enrollment declines

by Gaby Agbulos

DURING the pandemic, the number of students who enrolled for the school year of 2020 to 2021 drastically decreased, with at least 2.3 million dropping out according to the Department of Education.

Why? Because due to the pandemic, all schools were required to shift to online learning. Face-to-face classes were not allowed, and students learned through a combination of Zoom lectures, printed modules, and online tests. A lot of students struggled to keep up with the demands of this new routine. 

And while it was expected that the situation would get better when face-to-face classes returned, it seemed that this posed the opposite effect. Students are continuing to drop out; more often than not, they don’t even reach the tenth grade.

This is especially worrying considering the claims of the government that amid this pandemic, no child will be left behind. What’s happened to this?

And more importantly, what’s being done to solve this problem? 

The main reason

Many researchers have noted a multitude of reasons behind the increase in students dropping out over the years. Some reasons, for example, would be the distance of students going to and from their schools, or not having any proper means of transportation to get to school. 

There are also the issues of disabilities or illness, lack of personal interest, and a lack of money for enrollment. 

One of the main reasons behind this sudden drop, though? Work. 

With the pandemic, many people struggled to work. Thousands lost their jobs, and those who did have jobs had to risk their lives daily just to bring home money to their families. 

Some were able to adapt to these changes, but others were unable to keep up with the expenses required of a student’s education. This then led to several parents pulling their kids out of school for the time being. 

This also extends to the students themselves who have had to drop out. Since they have nothing else to do, they choose to start finding work and finding ways to support their family. Even when they can go back to school, many choose not to because work quickly becomes a higher priority. 

One such example of this, as noted by Chad De Guzman of TIME Magazine, is when high school teacher Johnnalie Consumo found that many students who underperformed were doing so because they had to work as well as study. 

De Guzman states that they had to do so due to one main reason: to help their family given that the income of their parents had been slashed due to the country’s suffering economy and rising unemployment rates.

While this may be okay for them in the meantime, it may not suffice for their needs in the future. Such was the case for Jose, who dropped out before he managed to finish senior high.

In the eyes of Jose

Jose*, 20, dropped out before he could finish Grade 12 after the sudden death of his nephew. At the time, he was taking up TVL Housekeeping and was studying at the Philippine Christian University while he and his family were still living in Makati. 

His family started to struggle financially as they had to deal with the expenses of his nephew’s death, and at the same time, had to move from Makati to Taguig. Along with the move, this would also mean that Jose’s tuition would be even higher because those living in Makati got vouchers for school whilst those in Taguig were not afforded that same privilege.

These two factors led to Jose being unable to enroll that same year. 

“Nung namatay yung pamangkin ko, ang laki ng gastos… medyo nahirapan kami sa pera, kaya mas pinili ko muna mag-work bago mag-aral,” he admitted.

Jose quickly found a job after that, assisting in setting up platforms for car shows as well as organizing the events themselves.

Though at first, he was happy that he was earning money on his own, and able to help out with his family’s expenses whenever needed, he quickly started to miss going to school. 

He explained: ““Iba yung pagod ng pag-aaral kaysa sa trabaho. Katagalan, mami-miss mo din talaga yung pagpasok sa school, at pagsisisihan mo din talaga. Ako, pinagsisihan ko.”

Jose plans to enroll next year but admits that he’s scared to do so because he knows it’ll be harder given all the time he’s been out of school. 

“Kapag umistop ka ‘tas nagtrabaho ka, yung mga natutunan mo… hindi naman mawawala, [pero] hindi mo na kabisado kasi nga nag-focus ka sa trabaho,” he explained. 

“Iniisip ko palang, nahihirapan na ako. Kasi ‘di [siya] katulad [ng] pag tuloy-tuloy ka: yung mga natututunan mo, nasa utak mo pa.” 

Check your privilege

The Philippines continues to be a country wherein a large portion of its citizens live in poverty. At present, more than half of Filipino families consider themselves to be poor. 

A large number of the country’s dropouts come from these poorer sectors, because of the aforementioned lack of money and thus needing to work as a result of this.

Though education is a right meant to be experienced by each individual, it’s slowly become a privilege over time. 

Even if a student goes to a public school, there are still several expenses they have to worry about. The travel expenses and food allowance alone are enough to make one’s head spin.

While everyone has different struggles they face, it’s undeniable that some have it better than others. In today’s economic climate, the poor are placed at a great disadvantage, and it seems unfair – unjust even – to act as if that isn’t the case.

To those who continue to judge those who may not have finished their schooling, Jose reminds them that they don’t yet understand the struggles others go through daily – those like him who couldn’t continue their education because they didn’t have the means, or because they had to focus on working instead of studying.

“Hindi naman tayong lahat, maayos yung buhay, or hindi kinakapos sa pera; ‘di lang talaga nila naiintindihan yung estado ng buhay ng tao,” he added.

And for those who are thinking of dropping out, he advises them to re-think their decision.

“Pag-isipan [sana] nila ng maigi, kasi pagsisisihan din nila [yun] kagaya ko,” he said.

*Jose’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.

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