MANILA (UPDATE) — Congested classrooms continued to be a problem among some Philippine schools that reopened for in-person instruction on Monday, following 2 years under distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Camarin High School in Caloocan, Principal Ferdinand de Leon admitted that congestion remained a challenge, noting that the teacher-student ratio in their school was at 1:50.
The school — which has largest student population in the city at around 11,000 — divided students into 2 shifts: one from 6 a.m. to noon and noon to 6 p.m.
Other schools implemented their own versions of "shifting", with some students still taking online classes on certain days of the week, to ease overcrowding and ensure that health protocols against COVID-19 are followed.
ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro also said as many as 50 students were crammed in a single classroom when she visited an elementary school in Quezon City.
"Okay naman 'yung mga bata. Maayos naman 'yung pagpasok," Castro told ANC's "Headstart". "But my observation is that they are cramped into a small classroom. Merong 40 to 50 students in a class."
(The children were okay. They got to school okay... But there were 40 to 50 students in a classroom.)
The number of students per class is the same as before the pandemic, said Castro, who urged the Department of Education (DepEd) to set a class size to ensure physical distancing.
But Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte has said her agency would not prescribe a class size, citing the "different situations" in schools.
In Davao City National High School, which has nearly 16,000 enrollees, a classroom accommodated as many as 70 students.
Both the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and Teachers' Dignity Coalition (TDC), in separate statements, also reported large class sizes and classroom shortage.
"Pagpasok sa paaralan ay bubungad naman ang mga dati nang problema na inaasahan pa rin ngayon gaya ng kakulangan sa classrooms at mga upuan," TDC Chairperson Benjo Basas.
(The old problems are still to be expected, including shortage of classrooms and chairs.)
"Our general situation now is we have classrooms of 40 to 50 students, taught by teachers with 7 to 8 teaching loads plus ancillary duties... how can education recover in this situation?" ACT chairperson Vladimer said, adding that the number of textbooks and modules is also "sorely insufficient."
During her speech in Dinalupihan Elementary School in Bataan, Duterte described the return of in-person classes as a victory for young Filipinos.
"Isang malaking tagumpay para sa mga kabataang Pilipino ang muling pagsisimula ng in-person learning ngayong araw na ito. Isang hakbang na buong tapang na ginawa ng Department of Education sa kabila ng mga hamon at takot na dala ng COVID-19 pandemic," Duterte said.
(The resumption of in-person learning today is a huge victory for the Filipino youth. This is a step taken by the Department of Education despite the challenges and fear brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.)
"We can no longer make the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to keep our children from their schools... We cannot make the lack of educational infrastructure or the inadequate number of classrooms in certain provinces another excuse to keep our children from schools," she added.
Some 24,175 or 46 percent of schools nationwide will implement full in-person classes Monday, according to the DepEd.
Meanwhile, 51.8 percent of schools will still conduct blended learning, which also involves classroom sessions, while only 1.29 percent will implement full distance learning.
Earlier this month, DepEd officials said the agency lacked around 91,000 classrooms but the shortage could be reduced to 40,000 through shifting and the construction of temporary learning spaces.
— With reports from Jaehwa Bernardo, Davinci Maru and Raffy Santos, ABS-CBN News and Chrislen Bulosan