education in the Philippines

In Philippine classrooms, weather’s too hot to handle

Bonz Magsambol

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In Philippine classrooms, weather’s too hot to handle

EXTREME HEAT. Grade 12 students use hand fans as they attend a class at the Commonwealth High School, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, April 18, 2024.

Lisa Marie David/REUTERS

Due to frequent suspensions of in-person classes, a student feels like it's like the pandemic all over again when he learned less, if not nothing at all

For senior high school student Morries Nofies, the persistent suspension of in-person classes amid the excessive heat in the Philippines is reminiscent of school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Naapektuhan ‘yung pagkatuto namin dahil nag-iba-iba po siya. Nagiging online. Minsan nagkakaroon ng activities na hindi naturo kasi lagi nga po delayed ‘yung klase. So pagdating po sa learning, parang nagkaroon kami ng bakasyon. Wala kami natutunan pero mayroon kami need i-submit. Kaya hindi po maganda ang edukasyon ngayong tag-init,” Nofies said in a phone interview with Rappler on Wednesday, May 1.

(Our learning is affected because it gets disrupted. There are school activities that weren’t taught because classes are always delayed. When it comes to learning, it feels like we are on vacation. We don’t learn anything but we need to submit class requirements. That’s why the quality of education is not good this summer.)

Nofies, 17, is a student of Luis Y. Ferrer Jr. Senior High School in General Trias, Cavite. He said that two-week consecutive in-person class suspensions in their school has affected learning, especially for him as he prepares for college.

“Pagdating sa pagkatuto, same lang siya ng pandemic. Wala na pong pumapasok sa utak namin. Two weeks na po kami hindi nakakapasok ng school (In terms of learning, it’s the same during the time of the pandemic. We’re unable to absorb anything. We haven’t been going to school for our in-person classes for two weeks already),” he said.

Although Nofies’ classroom has four electric fans, the condition is still not conducive to learning. “Wala po problema pagdating sa equipment pero hindi pa rin enough (There are no problems in terms of equipment but it’s still not enough),” he said.

As Band-Aid fix before their local government decided to suspend classes, his school, Nofies said, had already adjusted class schedules to avoid periods of extreme heat. Classes were held from 3-7 pm, but the problem was that students needed to travel to their schools before this schedule. Nofies had to leave their house at 2 pm amid scorching heat.

Nofies’ school was just one of the thousands of schools in the country that declared in-person class suspensions in the past weeks before the Department of Education (DepEd) announced a nationwide cancellation of on-site learning from April 29 to 30. Prior to this, the DepEd also made a similar announcement on April 8.

Below is the breakdown of schools per region that have been implementing remote learning as of April 25.

  • Region 1 – 759
  • Region 2 – 109
  • Region 3 – 1,765
  • Region 4A – 525
  • Region 4B – 456
  • Region 5 – 413
  • Region 6 – 1,389
  • Region 7 – 407
  • Region 8 – 102
  • Region 9 – 164
  • Region 10 – 3
  • Region 11 – 84
  • Region 12 – 335
  • Region 13 – 1
  • CAR – 246
  • NCR – 430

TOTAL: 7,188 out of 47,678 schools

Learning loss due to suspensions

Due to frequent suspensions of in-person classes, Nofies feels like he is learning less or not learning at all with the shift to distance learning. He is worried because this, according to him, affects his preparation for college.

“Parang nagiging three quarters na lang kami this year dahil nga puro suspension siya so nababawasan talaga ang learning (It seems like our school days were reduced to just three quarters instead of four because of the suspensions that impact learning),” he said.

The current school year is set to end on May 31. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had warned that temperature will get even hotter this May.

The heat index in Iba, Zambales, for instance, reached a scorching 53°C on Sunday, April 28, the highest that the country’s weather bureau has recorded so far in 2024.

Bag, Backpack, Child
EXTREME HEAT. A student uses her bag as protection against the sun, outside an elementary school in Manila, Philippines, April 19, 2024.

Learning loss, according to the Journal of Education and e-Learning Research, “occurs when students lose knowledge and skills generally or specifically or there is an academic impediment due to prolonged gaps or the discontinuation of the educational process.”

While there are no studies yet that show the extent of learning loss for weeks of class suspensions, Philippine Business for Education executive director Justine Raagas said that long school breaks could result in learning loss.

“Learning loss occurs whenever a student is outside the classroom. If you remember in 2020, schools opened late, sometime in October 2020. Even in normal times, where you have two months of summer break, that results in learning loss. That’s why the first few weeks of the start of classes, it’s for catch-up, and review of past lessons,” she said.

Educational psychologist and University of the Philippines professor Lizamarie Olegario said that learning loss is expected because the government didn’t learn from the prolonged school closures during the pandemic. She said that the Philippine government could have improved its implementation of distance learning so it could be the resort while waiting for classrooms to be “climate-resilient.”

“Students either worked on modules which were problematic and/or relied on data and cell phones for their online classes. By this time, we should have learned to design efficient remote learning, but until the pandemic ended, the problems remained unresolved. We also have to consider that many homes are also not climate-resilient like our schools. With the extreme heat that we are experiencing, it’s very difficult to focus on learning,” she said.

This matter is particularly important in the context of the Philippine education system because the country is suffering from learning poverty, wherein students aged 10 are struggling to read simple text. This was compounded by the fact that the country performed poorly in a recent global education assessment.

‘Aggressive’ revert

Due to the public clamor to speed up the return to the previous academic calendar, the DepEd said that it was proposing to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to revert to an April-May school break for the upcoming school year. This was disclosed on Tuesday, April 30, by DepEd spokesperson Francis Bringas during a Senate hearing on the conduct of classes amid extreme heat.

“In response to the recent clamor for a more immediate reversion to the April-May school break, the department has already submitted a letter to the Office of the President presenting other options, including a more aggressive alternative ending school year 2024 to 2025 in March 2025,” he said.

Prior to this, the department had set a five-year transition timeline to fully revert to the old calendar. But stakeholders, as well as the President, urged DepEd to make the transition immediately.

The immediate transition to the old academic calendar in just a year comes with a price. If approved by the President, students will only have 165 in-person school days for the upcoming school year, while the remaining classes will be conducted through distance learning. Aside from this, students and teachers will have a shorter school break in the middle of the transition.

According to Republic Act 7797, school days in the Philippines should be between 200 and 220 days.

“If we do it aggressively, then ma-sacrifice natin ‘yung (we sacrifice) some hours for the learners and some hours for the teachers,” Bringas said. He refused to give more information about the plan pending approval by the President.

But for Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate basic education committee, the transition will be a for a year only and will not be without sacrifices. “I support this ‘aggressive option’ to revert to the old academic calendar in school year 2024-2025 because of the uncertainty in the climate. We don’t know if next year will be hotter or cooler. What is certain, according to PAGASA, is summer time will always fall in March to May. Those will be the hottest months of the year,” he said.

Address problems

Olegario reiterated that the big problem really is not the academic calendar, but the quality of classrooms the Philippines has.

“The bottom line is that we need to retrofit our classrooms to be climate-resilient. This should be done as soon as possible, especially during the break before the next school year. What’s sad is that we still lack thousands of classrooms and also teachers need to have smaller class sizes. Since the DepEd secretary is also our vice president, it is expected that immediate action is facilitated by her being second top rank in the country’s leadership,” she said.

Must Read

Why reverting to old academic calendar is just a ‘stopgap’ measure

Why reverting to old academic calendar is just a ‘stopgap’ measure

The school opening in the Philippines was moved to October, instead of June, in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote learning was implemented. In the succeeding years, it was moved to August. It was the opportunity for the government to make the necessary adjustments to be in sync with the country’s Southeast Asian counterparts, where schools and classrooms are of better quality.

Aside from this, the change in the academic calendar was also decided because the months of June to August fall under the typhoon season, where class suspensions were frequent in the past.

If schools return to their original June to March academic calendar, did the government just waste resources and experiment at the expense of students?

At the Senate hearing on Tuesday, PAGASA again discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the current academic calendar it presented to Congress when the country made the shift. It was noted in the presentation that there would be “more school days with extremely hot temperature.”

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The government had been warned from the get go. If it could have better prepared for the excessive hot school days, then there would have been less impact on over 28 million basic education students. –

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.