Luistro: Don't forget far-flung schools
MANILA, Philippines – "[Far-flung] schools are as much a part of the educational system as any public school in the city. But not too much attention gets focused on them.”
As public school students head back to school on June 2, senior officials of the Department of Education (DepEd) prepare to visit schools in rural areas to show support and focus attention on places typically overlooked during the opening of classes.
In a statement on Sunday, June 1, DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro said he and senior officials would be deployed to various provinces to inspect the schools and gather best practices.
He said schools in island and mountain areas and those that cater to children with special needs should also be given focus and attention.
“I feel that we always look at urban areas. But what about island and mountain schools? Or schools that cater to children with special needs, indigenous peoples, or Muslim learners? They’re as much a part of the educational system as any public school in the city. But not too much attention gets focused on them," he said.
The education chief added, "We want to let teachers, principals and students know that we have not forgotten them and that they are not alone."
Last year, Luistro visited schools in the former leper colony of Culion in Palawan for the opening of classes. This year, he is set to visit the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to show his solidarity with Filipino Muslims.
Other DepEd officials were assigned to monitor schools in areas such as Region VIII, Northern Luzon, and critical areas in Metro Manila.
Luistro said he preferred to visit schools in remote areas to know the unique problems that plague these schools. While the lack of classrooms and chairs are a persistent concern every year, Luistro said schools in far-flung communities face other challenges.
"Since before I was in DepEd people have been used to hearing about chairs and classrooms and late enrolees surging through gates. But there are other things that need our attention. Last year I was in Culion in Palawan and their challenge was how to get to the high school, which was on another small island," he said.
Opening of classes
More than 26 million public school students are expected to go back to school on Monday, June 2. To ensure a peaceful and orderly opening of classes, Presidential Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma called on the public to exercise the bayanihan spirit and work together with authorities.
"Together with local communities, students, parents, and civic society, the DepEd is preparing for the orderly opening of classes," Coloma said.
"We call on citizens to cooperate to ensure the safety of students on the opening of classes. Let us work together to make sure our children, siblings, relatives, and neighbors return to school safely," he added.
Coloma also said the Philippine National Police would help direct traffic and impose order around school areas. Police assistance desks have also been set up for added security.
Funds for new classrooms
To help address the annual problem of classroom shortage, the national government allotted P335.4 billion to the education department for 2014.
Coloma said the budget allocated for DepEd jumped more than 71% from the year the Aquino administration took office. He said the DepEd only had a budget of P195.9 billion in 2010.
In a statement on Sunday, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said the government released P7.35 billion for the construction of classrooms in public schools nationwide.
The funds will be charged against the DepEd's budget for Basic Educational Facilities for the construction of 7,136 new classrooms in 4,007 places across the country.
Of the number, 5,916 will be built in elementary schools, while 1,220 classrooms will be built in secondary schools.
Budget Secretary Butch Abad said the release of funds showed the Aquino administration was committed to addressing the increasing number of enrollees per year in public schools.
He said this was evidenced by the consistent allocation of the largest chunk of the national budget for education.
“Just because we closed the classroom gap doesn't mean we're going to sit on our laurels. The Aquino administration is as committed as ever to ensuring that our public schools can accommodate the increasing number of enrollees per year. This latest fund release fulfills exactly that commitment," Abad said.
"When we equip our schools adequately for the school year ahead, we give our schoolchildren a better chance at doing well in their studies. Teachers are also able to deliver their lessons in an environment that actually facilitates learning,” he added.
The largest amount was released to the Bicol region (Region V) with P1.15 billion for 1,111 classrooms.
The second largest chunk of P960.8 million went to Region XII, for the construction of classrooms in South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and General Santos City.
Meanwhile, Region VII (Central Visayas) got P753.9 million for 710 classrooms.
DepEd said it would construct a total of 43,183 new classrooms this year to address the increase in number of students and to better prepare for the implementation of the K-to-12 senior high school program.
Aside from new classrooms, the following are also planned:
- repair of 9,502 classrooms, not including those devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)
- addition of 1.59 million new seats
- construction of 10 new library hubs
- employment of 33,194 new teachers and 1,500 teaching-related staff