A tale of two crises

"Educational institutions face daunting challenges in a changing world."

The announcement this week that the College of the Holy Spirit Manila (CHSM) would close its doors in 2022 after more than a century in operation is a stark reminder, not only of the wide-ranging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the challenges that educational institutions face in a changing world.

In a letter to stakeholders dated Oct. 28, the Mission Congregation of the Servants of the Holy Spirit said the 107-year-old institution has faced a host of challenges in the past decade which made it difficult to “to attract new students and ramp up enrollment.”

“Private education has faced an increasingly challenging environment resulting from 1) government policies on K-12; 2) free tuition in state colleges and universities, local universities and colleges, and state-run technical and vocational institutions; and 3) the significant increase in public school teachers’ salaries compared to their private school counterparts,” read the statement signed by provincial leader Sr. Carmelita Victoria. “The recent COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation.”

“After consultation with representatives of our stakeholders, and a deep and prayerful process of discernment, we are now even more convinced that the Holy Spirit is speaking clearly to us through the signs of the times, compelling us to make this extremely difficult decision: to close CHSM at the end of academic year (AY) 2021-2022,” it added.

The timeline would allow the school to graduate current Grade 11 and third year college students should they choose to stay on, the letter said.

CHSM also appealed for the community’s patience and cooperation, as it assured proper transition for students’ transfer to other schools.

The Manila-based Catholic school founded in 1913 is not alone.

The Department of Education (DepEd) reported in September that a total of 865 private schools were suspending their operations this year due to the pandemic.

Aside from low enrollment turnout, the schools were unable to meet the distance learning requirements imposed by the government in June, since all face-to-face classes were banned until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

To continue operating during the pandemic, private schools had to set up their own email domains and educational platforms, hire help desk personnel to answer queries, and make sure that students and teachers have the necessary resources to access the lessons. These were substantial investments—at a time when enrollment and revenues were plummeting.

In July, the Department of Education said more than 200,000 students transferred from private to public schools. Education Secretary Leonor Briones attributed the transfer of students to the economic downturn brought by the pandemic.

And it wasn’t only the students who were moving. Teachers, too, have transferred to public schools due to higher compensation benefits.

There were 14,435 private schools operating in the last school year; the closure of 865 this year represents about 6 percent of the total. It would be tempting to see this as a natural culling of the inefficient, but if the trend continues, it could have serious long-term implications on the quality of education our children receive.

Topics: Editorial , College of the Holy Spirit Manila , COVID-19 pandemic , Department of Education , DepEd
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