MANILA - A Grade 6 pupil on Pag-asa Island in the disputed Spratly archipelago will be the first to complete his elementary education in the most remote part of the country.
Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon said the pupil, whose parents have relocated to the island town, would be declared a graduate of Kalayaan Elementary School in commencement exercises scheduled next month.
“Our town will have its first elementary graduate, but the commencement exercise is somewhat delayed as it will be held next month,” Bito-onon said.
Representatives of the Department of Education (DepEd) in Palawan will go to Pag-asa Island to officially preside over the graduation rites.
Last year, the school produced the first batch of four kindergarten graduates.
Originally, there were five kindergarten pupils but one dropped out. The four are now in Grade 1 and are expected to enroll in the next grade level when classes start in June.
Bito-onon admitted he is still at a loss whether their first elementary graduate would be automatically admitted to high school or must finish or complete Grade 7 under the new K-12 curriculum.
DepEd approved the opening of the Kalayaan Elementary School to meet the educational needs of children of residents who migrated to Pag-asa Island, seat of Kalaayan town.
Before this, elementary pupils from the island had to leave their parents and stay with relatives in mainland Palawan to attend school.
Allowing civilians to settle in Pag-asa Island, the second largest in the hotly contested region, is in line with the government’s move to “demilitarize” the prevailing dispute in the archipelago brought about by overlapping maritime claims of the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
The number of students enrolled at the Kalayaan Elementary School has increased to 27 following the completion of a pre-fabricated classroom donated by the Ayala Foundation last year through the efforts for former Western Command chief Juancho Sabban.
Before the building of the pre-fabricated classroom, students held their classes in an old multi-purpose hall.
Attending to the students – six are in kindergarten and 20 in Grades 1 to 5 and one in Grade 6 – are two full-time teachers that DepEd assigned to the island town with a civilian population of 107, 34 of them children.
“Kindergarten to Grade 3 pupils attend their classes in the morning, while Grades 4 to 6 students have their classes the whole afternoon. This is due to the lack of classrooms and teachers,” Bito-onon said.
A contingent of military personnel from the Navy and Air Force is on forward deployment in the island as well as in six other islets and two reefs to secure and protect the country’s sovereign rights over the contested territory.