A tropical storm forced schools to close across the northern Philippines on Tuesday – just one day after in-person learning had resumed following one of the world’s longest pandemic-related shutdowns.
Severe Tropical Storm Ma On – known as Florita in the Philippines – made landfall in Maconacon, Isabela province at 10:30 a.m. local time, according to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA).
The weather agency said heavy to intense torrential rains were expected to sweep through much of northern Luzon – the country’s largest and most populous island – warning of widespread flooding and landslides.
Public schools were suspended for two days starting Tuesday in the national capital region, which includes Manila, and the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, Bulacan, Zambales and Bataan, according to a statement posted to Facebook by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s press secretary.
Authorities preemptively evacuated more than 540 people to shelters and flood warnings were issued for the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac, Bataan and Pampanga.
Photos from Pampanga Monday showed some students spent their first day back at school after more than two years of remote leaning in flooded classrooms as the storm inched closer to land.
More than 28 million students returned to school across the country on Monday, according to the Education Department. Plans to lift the Covid restrictions, imposed in March 2020, had stalled due to fears that a slow vaccine rollout among students and teachers could lead to new outbreaks.
In a statement Monday, UNICEF said the long closures had stunted the educational development of millions of children in the country.
“Prolonged school closures, poor health risk mitigation, and household-income shocks had the biggest impact on learning poverty, resulting in many children in the Philippines failing to read and understand a simple text by age 10,” the statement said.
“Vulnerable children such as children with disabilities, children living in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas, and children living in disaster and conflict zones fare far worse.”
The shift to online classes, self-learning modules and educational television and radio programs proved extremely challenging for the country of more than 110 million, where less than a fifth of households have internet access and many lack mobile devices, according to Reuters.