With pandemic learning losses, DepEd should invest more on interventions

‘Much learning has been lossed over the last two years of the pandemic and As the new education department gears up for the return of face-to-face classes, we hope they could support learning catch-up and invest in similar interventions as with Kiddie Learning Train, drawing from cited evidence on how suitable investments and support lead to significant improvement in children’s learning.’

Every child has the right to have quality and accessible education most especially in the early years of life.

Aling Letecia C. Momo, 51 years old, mother of Kiddie Learning Train (KLT) beneficiary, guides her children while using the Kitkit School learning app. (Photo by Riva G. Valles)

Aling Letecia, 51, from Lahug, Cebu City, works as a massage therapist while her husband works as a security guard with a minimum wage. Every 5th and 20th of the month, her husband takes home Php 5,000, which they use to pay for utility bills and rice. Meanwhile, Aling Letecia’s daily wage is used for meals and other school expenses of her kids.“Diyan ko rin kukunin‘yung pang-baon ng mga anak ko at para rin sa proyekto nila. Diyan po napupunta yung sahod ko.” She said.

Aling Letecia has nine children. Four of her children are used to having rice with milk as their protein for breakfast.“Yung gatas po ang nagsisilbi na ulam nila kada umaga. Sa tanghalian naman ay yung gulay na may sabaw at saka isda. Sa kanilang hapunan naman ay ‘yung sari-saring gulay. Yan po yung paraan ko kasi minsan lang ako makabili ng baboy dahil mahal yung presyo.” she said. Her children also requests for snacks in the afternoon whenever she picks them up from school. “Kung hindi ako kikita ng pang-extrang baon nila, yung mga anak ko na nasa high school ay walang ma-ibabaon.” she added.

Life during the pandemic

Aling Letecia cooks their lunch outside their dismantled home caused by typhoon Odette in Lahug, Cebu City. (Photo by Riva G. Valles)

Aling Letecia recounted how difficult it was for them to live during the pandemic. “Noong pandemya nahihirapan talaga ako kasi maliit lang yung budget namin pero may mga ayuda naman. Kaso, ‘di naman talaga sapat sa isang araw o isang linggo na kainan kasi kadalasan na ibinabahagi dito sa amin ay tig-iisang kilo o dalawang kilong bigas lang.”

She also added that she found it difficult to go out to work during the strict lockdowns. She is a masseuse so she has limited opportunities to earn and buy food. She mentioned that there are barely any feeding programs in their barangay. If there is one, usually it is being held by private entities such as a certain family in their place. “Natutuwa ako kapag meron lalong-lalo na’t wala akong pambili para sa makakain ng mga anak ko,” she said.

Many studies proved that hunger and malnutrition negatively affect children’s brain development and ability to learn, as well as school attendance and completion. Unfortunately, there has been little improvement in addressing undernutrition in the country for almost 30 years. Stunting or being too small for their age has been prevalent among 1 out of 3 kids aged 5 years old and below (World Bank, 2021).  More than 3 million Filipino families recently reported having experienced hunger (Social Weather Stations, 2022).

Hunger and malnutrition, among other education problems, are reflected  in the results of the SY 2017-2018 National Achievement Test, at least 95% of Grade 6 and Grade 10 students are below levels of proficiency and high proficiency (scored 74% and below) in Math, English, and Science (DepED and UNICEF, 2021) 

Children under learning poverty

Even before school closure and modular learning, Aling Leticia observed her children having learning difficulties. “Noong bago pa magkaroon ng pandemya at bago pa dumating ang Kiddie Learning Train sa amin, medyo nahihirapan na talaga sila magbasa at umintindi kahit na 7 at 8 years old na yung dalawa kong anak” Aling Leticia mentioned. 

According to a joint report of UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Bank, 9 out of 10 kids aged 10 years old have learning poverty or they cannot read and understand simple text. In the case of Aling Leticia’s children, they have less than three years left to catch up on reading or they’ll be considered suffering from learning poverty.

This posed a more severe challenge to early graders, who are still in the formative period of laying the groundwork for their reading and numeracy skills. Children who struggle with reading and math have a more challenging time adjusting to a higher level of education. As a result, these children are more likely to drop out of school, become unemployed, or be assigned to low-skilled and low-earning occupations in the future.

Kiddie Learning Train experience

To aid learning losses, Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), through the support of Accenture Philippines, launched Kiddie Learning Train (KLT) to bring children back on track. It helped low-scoring Kinder to Grade 3 pupils in Cebu by remediating and improving their reading and math skills during the pandemic. KLT gave tablets with a play-based learning app (Kitkit School) to each pupil and enlisted volunteer tutors to teach them at least once a week. After six months, KLT measured the learning gains of the pupils or the difference between their first and final in-app test scores.

Kitkit School is a comprehensive learning platform that comprises three primary features: (1) the game-based Kitkit School App; (2) a library of resources for literacy and numeracy; and (3) interactive tools to complement learning through music and arts. The application can function independently without an internet connection. It is developed by Enuma, an award-winning California-based education technology social enterprise.
Aling Letecia and her two children express gratitude to the Kiddie Learning Train. (Photo by Riva G. Valles)

After being a part of the KLT program, Aling Letecia noticed improved academic performance in her children. “Malaking tulong na dumating ang Kiddie Learning Train kasi tumaas yung grades nila kaya malaki yung pasasalamat ko sa KLT kasi nakakatulong talaga ang tablet sa amin” she said as she expressed with joy.

After six months of intervention, KLT delivered encouraging results that can be used for policy recommendations and as a model for civil society engagement. On average and across all levels, it increased learning gains by 9% in Reading and 7% in Math. And importantly, it is most helpful among those who scored the lowest at the start of the program or those who belong in the bottom 25%:  1) Grade 1 students increased their reading scores by 122%, which is almost 13 times higher than the average reading learning gains, and 2) students from all grade levels increased their scores by almost 20%, which is more than twice as high as the average math learning gains.

The infographic above shows that the bottom 25% of Grade 1 students have 13 times more reading learning gains than the average while the bottom 25% in all grade levels have two times more math learning gains than the average.

Aside from the tablet and learning app, KLT enlisted more than a hundred volunteers to serve as para-teachers or tutors, which is similar to the plan of the Department of Education of deploying teacher aides. They provided additional lessons to help the students better understand the concepts by providing additional materials or even allocating some of their time to conduct house-to-house tutorial sessions. Students who had at least one tutorial session learned more in math and reading by 14% and 25%, respectively.

The infographic above shows that those students, who had at least one tutorial session from their assigned volunteer para-teacher, have learned more in math (+14%) and reading (+25%) compared to those who did not attend tutorials.

Even with the available tutors, KLT promoted independent learning as observed by parents. Additionally, the majority of interviewed beneficiaries still prefer face-to-face classes with supplemental tablet use. 

The graph above shows the preferred learning modality of the pupils.

On the other hand, it was also observed that children who are malnourished and belong to families with less than Php 8,000 monthly income have lower or even negative learning gains compared to their fortunate counterparts.

The infographic above shows that students who belong to a family with a monthly household income of Php 8,000 and above are more likely to have higher math learning gains, and students who are normal in weight tend to have the same overall average learning gains in literacy (9%) and numeracy (7%).

Learn! Learn! Learn!

KLT shows how technology and volunteers can significantly improve a child’s learning and how nutrition and family income can make or break learning gains. It shows that with suitable investments and support, we can curb learning poverty. 

Investing in our children is as, if not more, important as investing in building infrastructures. Investing in our children is an economic strategy as it grows and strengthens our human capital.  Each additional year of schooling raises a person’s income by 10% and a country’s GDP by 18%, (UNICEF, 2015). The Philippines, unlike its aging ASEAN and East Asian neighbors, has the advantage of having a 7.9 million young workforce. But for us to reap its benefits, our workforce should be competitive and skilled.  

Education paves the way to better health, employment, and economic empowerment. Government, private sector, and civil society organizations should heavily invest in our children’s nutrition and education to break the vicious cycle of poverty and empower the Filipino youth to live a better life and provide a better one for the next generations. 

Editor’s Note: This story from PBEd is published in whole with permission. PBEd, together with the business community and the private sector, advocates for an inclusive education system that enables all Filipinos to lead productive lives and contribute to national development.

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