IT IS indeed amazing that despite the perennial problem of classroom shortage, inadequate supply of books, and the lack of teachers, as well as the increasing number of students each school year, the formal opening of classes last Monday went on smoothly, as reported both by the national office of the Department of Education and by our regional office based in Legazpi City.
A DepEd Bicol spokesman was reported to have said that there were no major problems monitored on the first day of school in the region, as had been generally noted in other schools nationwide. On the anticipated lack of classrooms, DepEd Bicol spokesman Mayflor Jumamil reported that under the “Balik Eskwela” for this school year, they have put up at least 973 temporary learning spaces, or TLS, to serve as classrooms in 402 schools, especially in campuses affected by typhoon Nina that hit Bicol last December. These TLS consist of galvanized iron sheets and plywood materials as partitions serving as temporary classrooms until permanent classrooms are constructed.
The Department of Education in Manila said they have expected around 27.7 million learners nationwide to report to their classrooms last Monday, including the first batch of Grade 12 learners since the full implementation of the K to 12 Program.
No less than Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones noted that there have been no reports of major problems encountered by schools nationwide. She added that the commitments of other agencies, such as the Philippine National Police, contributed to the smooth opening of classes.
Briones further aired the good news that her department is expanding the Alternative Learning System (ALS) to encourage more out-of-school-youths to return to school. Here in Bicol, the regional office of the DSWD has also been conducting sessions and workshops, especially in indigent communities, to encourage the OSYs to go back to formal school so that they would be molded to become self-reliant, economically productive, and socially responsible citizens.
Secretary Briones explained the reason behind the shortages in classrooms and school buildings because of the unavoidable increase in enrolment (obviously due to population explosion) every school year.
Moreover, Briones expressed the intention of the Department to build more school buildings to address this concern; however, the problem on buildable spaces arises. “Gusto naman talaga nating magdagdag ng shool buildings pero ang problema ay yung mga buildable spaces. Kasi kung panay building na lang ang eskwelahan, hindi rin yun healthy sa mga bata,” Briones stated.
Based on data from 2014 to 2016, the DepEd has registered more than half the completion rate in classroom construction, with the 2014 and the 2015 backlogs close to accomplishment at 84.11% and 72.38%, respectively. Of the total physical target of 107,920 classrooms, only 41,880 remain underway.
“Kaya nga we are considering, maybe in the near future, mag-build tayo ng school communities outside the urban centers. Tapos i-bus na lang yung mga bata sa lugar na ito,” Briones was quoted as saying.
Other solution being considered by the Education Department regarding classroom shortage is to build high-rise school buildings. Now we can see four-storey buildings being completed and constructed in at least two major public schools in Naga City. High-rise buildings, in contrast to establishing more campuses in new areas, will become more convenient to students who need not go far to find new classrooms elsewhere.
Definitely, the most unhappy students this new school year are those displaced by the war in Marawi City. Based on records, around 20,000 learners bear the brunt of this latest conflict in Mindanao where it would take time for them and their families to return given that many houses and establishments were destroyed in the armed conflict in the city. Displaced students have now been scattered in surrounding but relatively far provinces, such as Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Lanao, Zamboanga, and Cotabato.
For all these, warts and all, the Department of Education – from its secretary down to the lowliest barangay classroom teacher – deserve our gesture of support and congratulations.