More than just a want: The vision of #NoStudentLeftBehind and why the reopening of schools is a need

This op-ed is part of AASYP’s Digital Dialogues 2021, which is a programme that aims to provide a platform and forum for future leaders from across the region to contribute to the policymaking and diplomacy sphere by engaging in issues relating to Gender and Diversity, Green Recovery, and Emerging Economies.

Not one nation was spared from the upset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Countries instituted lockdowns and implemented community quarantine restrictions, sacrificing their civil liberties for the sake of public health. The normal mechanism of life was crippled  by this deadly virus, especially  developing countries. The pandemic has aggravated existing inequalities in society, revealing the cost of uncoordinated responses to the pandemic amidst halted interdependence. In recovering from this pandemic, what has then suffered the most besides the economy? The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the education sector of third-world countries and their currently-implemented solutions at the micro scale, which has brought about negative effects and havoc at the macro scale to our future workforce. Hence, the #NoStudentLeftBehind movement was born with the hopes of calling for an inclusive system in this time of the pandemic. 

2021 marks the second year of online classes for the Philippines during the Covid-19 crisis. The government has again chosen to implement the same type of learning strategy as the previous year, which was widely criticised by different sectors as many deemed it to be ineffective, unpredictable, and fragile. In 2020, this disagreement was marked by mass protests and youth-led educational discourses that rampantly roamed physical and virtual spaces while forwarding a vision that prioritised the Filipino students and their welfare. Although some universities and colleges took critical steps in adjusting to this setup such as mass school promotion, short-term academic breaks, and mental health programs, this does not sum up to the weight of the students’ burden. 

Mental exhaustion 

A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) shows that around 81 per cent of teenagers aged from 13 to 17 have experienced immense pressure and stress during the upset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The nature of distance learning which is independent learning and remote classes adds up to this immense stress especially for students with unfavourable environments for studying. As a student in Bicol, one of the most typhoon-prone regions in the Philippines, the mental exhaustion is apparent.

In 2020, I was able to experience three consecutive typhoons around October-November where the third was the most unforgettable. Typhoon Ulysses, internationally known as Typhoon Vamco, ultimately quivered my mental health as a university student studying his junior year in the middle of a pandemic. Given the impacts of whipping typhoons, the electricity lines were out for more than two weeks, the internet connection was intermittent, and the environment I was living in was non-conducive. Physical health was not the premier issue. Battling the mental weariness and virtual classes was the constant struggle. 

#NoStudentLeftBehind & the reopening of schools

It was not about making excuses, but it was a call for a fix in the system. #NoStudentLeftBehind proves that youth are constantly exhibiting reasons and manifesting ways in which they can ensure the safety and welfare of fellow students during these trying times. The protests and rallies of youth activists acknowledge the fact that not everyone is tolerating it. The movement was a national noise in the Philippines. It pushes administrations of universities and colleges to forward programs that are more inclusive to the needs of the students. They wanted more than just two days of academic break and webinars on mental health awareness. They wanted to reopen the schools for their sake. However, this wish is farfetched given the “no vaccine, no classes” policy in the country and the slow vaccination rollout. While the students are waiting for their turn in getting jabbed, they continue to push through the mishaps of this unfortunate circumstance. 

Crucial role of the government 

Empathy. Compassion. Competence. These are three of the values that the #NoStudentLeftBehind movement wishes to accentuate but several national governments fail to understand. Given the unnoticed struggles of citizens, who are mostly students, empathetic strategies for better educational experiences are not prioritised. The public servants should craft programs that comprehensively address the issues of accessibility to the internet, mental health problems, and poverty in general.

A big chunk of compassion is necessary for government officials to immediately take action by immersing themselves in the struggle, instead of blindly following their cronies. Proper allocation of resources, money and funding for vaccination rollouts, contact tracing, and assistance programs for the poor will be generally helpful for the country, however it will also support students by paving the way for the reopening of schools. Competency from the government will branch out to the competency of the students through supporting them in this mutual  struggle. 

Overall, the most vital role in pushing this movement’s general plan of action forward is ensuring that the priorities of national governments are aligned with the educational sector. The students who will be filling the roles as future leaders, employers, business people, teachers, and public servants should be ensured with proper support from the  system. The call for inclusive education is more than just a want- the reopening of schools is a need for a proper, inclusive, and systematised educational instruction for the future of our workforce.

This article was written by Ben Francis Razon de Lima, edited by Stephanie Plumb, and reviewed by the AASYP Publications Team.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this op-ed are solely those of the writer and in no way represent nor reflect the position of AASYP and members of the AASYP Publications Team. The AASYP Horizons Blog provides a platform for the free expression of opinions and intellectual discourse.

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