PASIG CITY, June 6, 2017 – The Department of Education (DepEd) welcomed around 27.7 million learners nationwide, including the first batch of Grade 12 learners since the full implementation of the K to 12 Program, on June 5, the official start of the School Year (SY) 2017-2018.
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 (PNP), contributed to the smooth opening of classes.
Minimizing the number of drop-outs
Briones emphasized that poverty and school distance are some of the reasons why school-age children drop out. To address these, the Department is expanding the Alternative Learning System (ALS) to encourage more out-of-school youths (OSYs) to return to school, "Mayroon tayong Alternative Learning System kung saan may night school para sa mga bata na nagta-trabaho. Nagse-set up din tayo ng learning centers para sa mga bata na kailangan matuto magsulat at magbasa."
The 27.7 million learners expected in SY 2017-2018 already includes projected enrollees for ALS.
Addressing classroom shortages
During a press conference at the President Corazon Aquino High School in Baseco, Manila, Briones explained the reason behind the shortages in classrooms and school buildings, “Palaki nang palaki talaga ang enrollment natin dahil every year, may mga pumapasok na Kindergarten, may mga nadadagdag. DepEd and the local government units (LGUs) try to catch up [in terms of school facilities and other school materials] with the unavoidable increase in enrollment every 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 Department 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 added.
Other solution being considered by the Education Department in addressing the problem in classrooms is to build high-rise school buildings.
“Other alternative is to build high rise school buildings. It would necessitate the cooperation and the generosity of the local government… Kung gusto nilang malapit, high-rise building,” Briones explained.
Senior High School classes and teachers
DepEd-NCR Director Ponciano Menguito clarified that they have not issued any directive to merge Technology and Livelihood Education (TLE) classes to be taught by one teacher. He stated that, in some remote cases, this may be the contingency measure of the school principal if there are no teachers available to teach the subject. However, this is only for emergency situation.
Menguito also explained that Junior High School (JHS) teachers in Metro Manila are not forced to teach in SHS. Teacher hiring for Grades 11 and 12 has been opened since February and is also open for JHS teachers, if they have the expertise.
Accommodating displaced Marawi learners
Briones noted that based on records, around 20,000 learners are expected to be displaced from Marawi City and 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.
Staying committed in the DepEd’s goal to reach all learners, the Education Chief mentioned anew the efforts of the Department in accommodating these displaced learners from Marawi, “Nagbigay naman ang DepEd Central Office (CO) ng orders sa mga regional at division offices na huwag pahirapan yung mga naglilipat na mga estudyante. Maari silang mag-enroll nang hindi kumpleto ang mga enrollment requirements.”
Surrounding DepEd offices in Marawi have already conducted mapping of displaced learners to better accommodate their learning needs. Briones said, “Naka-scatter sila sa iba’t ibang lugar sa Pilipinas. Pero medyo malaki ang consideration natin sa Iligan at Cagayan de Oro dahil ito yung mga malapit.”
Briones also said that an influx of Marawi student transferees in Zamboanga and Cotabato may also happen considering that some Marawi residents have relatives in these locations, “The usual impulse kasi is to go to your relatives, kaya aside from Iligan, Cagayan de Oro and Lanao, may mga lumilikas din sa Zamboanga at Cotabato.”
Safe learning environment for learners
Briones explained that the Department is mobilizing and coordinating with PNP by heightening the security arrangements not only during school opening.
DepEd also has expressed its commitment in contributing to the normalization of the learners’ welfare. In schools, tarpaulins and signages indicating that schools are zones of peace are displayed.
“Kami ay naglalagay ng mga tarpaulins na ang schools ay zones of peace. Na hangga’t maaari, huwag dalhin yung mga conflict at iba pang opinyon sa eskwelahan para hindi ma-trauma yung mga bata,” Briones said.
The DepEd executive committee members are set to visit different regions to personally monitor the school opening from June 5 to 10.