MANILA, Philippines - Is it possible for any school to squeeze in more than 13,000 students in 72 classrooms?
Batasan Hills National High School did it on Monday's opening of classes, but with some modifications and sacrifices.
For its big school population, classes had to be conducted in two shifts. The first shift runs from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., and the second at 1 p.m. until 8 p.m.
The school's principal, Dr. Gil Magbanua, said they can only do so much with so little that they have.
Classroom population ranges between 80 to 100 students, with half of that number seated on the floor or standing beside the wall at the end of the classroom.
Magbanua said that even if there are enough tablet arm chairs, it's physically not possible to put it inside the classroom for 90 students.
"Ang ideal na class size talaga is 40 to 45. So pag nilagyan natin ng 100 yan, talagang punong-puno yung kwarto na 9 (meters) by 6 (meters)," said Magbanua.
Annual population increase during enrollment is the greatest challenge being confronted by this school.
A tour of the facility gave us a glimpse of the jampacked situation of the school.
At a classroom for first-year high school students, only half of the students were seated. The other half were on the floor.
With 90 students, students had a hard time hearing what their teachers were saying.
Some were innovative and provided themselves with lapel microphones with built-in speakers to conserve their energy and avoid the need of shouting at the top of their lungs.
"At the end of the day, kung wala akong lapel, wala na kong boses paglabas ko ng classroom, as in paos na paos ka na," said Rosie Lura, president of BHNHS faculty.
Lapel microphones were bought from shops at Gonzalo Puyat Street (formerly Raon) in Manila, with prices ranging from P1,500 (entry level) up to P3,000 (high-end).
But the graduating class was not as fortunate as the freshmen. They were seated on the floor, as if in an acting workshop. There were a dozen chairs, and their physics teacher said they would just take turns in using the chairs.
The chairs were supposed to be arm chairs, but what they're using were chairs without arm rests.
"Nakakapagod po, kaya lang kailangan mag-sacrifice" said Gerlie Holgado, after giving out the syllabus for the first two grading periods of the year.
The class lasted from 7:50 am until 8:45 am, and the students could only smile with relief as they stood up.
"Mahirap!" said one of the students when I asked them about their first day of school.
"Dati kulang-kulang din po (referring to the chairs)," said Jay Ann Leano, a graduating student.
But despite the spartan condition, Batasan Hills National High School still produces competitive students.
At the principal's office, a table is lined with plaques and trophies from different academic competitions held in different parts of the country, and even abroad -- the latest of which was a science competition held in Malaysia, where BHNHS got the gold medal.
Sadly, for this year, there's no plan to add facilities and personnel in this school.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) Party-List Representative Antonio Tinio said schools like the BHNHS are not included in the priorities of government.
Tinio said the government's budget for this year is more focused on the Aquino administration's Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.
"Dun sa debate sa 2011 budget, para sa budget ngayon, humihingi tayo ng dagdag para sa edukasyon. Ngunit ang karamihan ng pondo, nilagay sa DSWD, partikular sa Conditional Cash Transfer," said Tinio.
Debt servicing, too, according to Tinio, got the bigger chunk with almost P700 billion, while education got only P207 billion.