MANILA, Philippines - A new school year began on Monday for millions of students across the country, many of them returning to face the same old problems: cramped classrooms, too few teachers, and not enough supplies.
At the Batasan Hills National High School (BHNHS) in Quezon City, around 13,000 students use 72 classrooms.
With such a big school population, classes have 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.
The classroom population ranges between 80 to 100 students, with half of them seated on the floor or standing beside the wall at the end of the classroom.
Magbanua said that even if there were enough tablet arm chairs, it's physically not possible to put these 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.
Not government priority?
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers said students have no choice but to put up with deplorable conditions.
ACT Rep. 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.
DepEd sets up help lines
From June 6 to June 10, the Department of Education (DepEd) will keep its help lines open to assist parents and students.
Since May 30, the DepEd action center has been receiving over a thousand calls, mostly having to do with collection of school fees, transfer requirements, and confusion over enrolment policies.
The DepEd said most of these have been acted upon by its officers.
At the Parañaque National High School, over 11,000 students are expected to attend classes from 1st to 4th year.
With 125 classrooms and 341 teachers, the school officials say they are ready to accommodate more students in the school facility.
But some schools continue to encounter problems with overcrowding.
At the Payatas-B Elementary School, some 80 students share seats in a classroom designed for 25 students, forcing some to hold classes in makeshift classrooms.
The DepEd also began implementing its universal kindergarten program in public schools this school year in a bid to better prepare kids for grade school.
“Mahalaga ang kinder kasi sa pagaaral namin, ang mga nagdrodrop out sa elementary mostly yung hindi nakakapag preschool,” said Secretary Armin Luistro.
But some continue to oppose the universal kindergarten program, doubting it will be effective.
The program's critics said the DepEd still hasn't solved the problem of lack of teachers, facilities, and supplies.
The DepEd said it will hold new consultations on the plan to add 2 more years to the country's 10-year basic education cycle.
Security stepped up
Meantime, the Philippine National Police (PNP) stepped up security in today's opening of classes for at least 25 million students nationwide.
In Metro Manila alone, 2,500 policemen were deployed to secure over 1,000 schools.
In Taft Avenue, Manila police and barangay officials lined up to show their efforts to prevent street crimes near the campuses.
“We want to prevent maging biktima ang kabataan, mga estudyante natin, kaya pinaaalalahanan na natin sila on the first day… nakikipag-ugnayan kami sa school officials, kung pwede kami magbigay ng konting pananalita sa mga kabataan para maminimize natin at hindi sila maging biktima ng krimen,” said NCRPO spokesperson Sr. Supt. Dionardo Carlos.
In Quezon City, some 748 police and over 2,000 barangay tanod, NGO and civilian volunteers were dispatched to assist security efforts.
At the Ramon Magsaysay High School Cubao, which has a student population of 7,000, police reminded students to remain vigilant.
Aside from increased visibility in and around schools, dormitories and busy streets, police also set up public assistance desks outside schools.
‘Peaceful’ opening in regions
Despite the perennial problems like lack of teachers, and in at least one case, lack of electricity, school opening across the regions was declared generally peaceful.
Heavy traffic marred the first day of classes in Baguio City due to the surge in the number of students this year.
Some parents said they were unable to enroll their kids because of various miscellaneous fees being charged to students including testing and security fees.
In Pangasinan, the West Central Elementary School welcomed students even without electricity.
Authorities said thieves broke into the school building and stole its power cables.
Still in Pangasinan, the settlement of a land dispute paved the way for the Tebeng Elementary School to re-open. After being closed for 7 years, more than 100 preschool and grade one students attended the first day of classes.
Over in Matina, Davao City, Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School had to build makeshift classrooms to accommodate 6,000 students. Classrooms were overcrowded with 78 students squeezing in a class.
In Cagayan de Oro, more than 9,000 students walked through the doors of the City Central School.
School officials said they expect more students in the coming days, citing a deluge of transferees who sought the assistance of the DepEd’s action center.
The Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School, which had at least 10,000 students this morning, expects the same. While the school continues to accept transferees, officials said they give priority to local students. -- With reports from ANC; Jorge Cariño, Atom Araullo, Francis Faulve, and Niña Corpuz, ABS-CBN News; Ada Sibayan, Cris Zuñiga, Michelle Robin, and Rod Bolivar, ABS-CBN Regional Network Group