On the eve of the school year’s opening today, close to 22.7 million public school students have enrolled, still short of the initial target of the Department of Education’s (DepEd’s) target of 28.8 million.
The department, however, expects the number of enrollees to rise during the first week of classes.
“We are accepting late enrollees since it is usual that many students enroll on the first day of classes and the days that follow,” said DepEd Undersecretary Michael Poa.
As students prepare for their second year of face-to-face classes after the COVID-19 pandemic, they are stepping into classrooms devoid of decorations and “clutter,” as schools comply with an order issued by Vice President Sara Duterte, who concurrently serves as DepEd secretary.
This academic year marks the final phase of the current “congested” curriculum for students from kindergarten to 10th grade.
The succeeding academic years will implement a phased introduction of the revamped “Matatag” curriculum, which streamlines the foundational subjects from seven to five.
The urgency of curriculum reform becomes evident in light of a 2021 World Bank study, which showed that over 90 percent of Filipino students aged 10 struggle to comprehend text appropriate for their age level. A comprehensive review of the senior high school (Grades 10-12) curriculum is also in progress and is slated to be unveiled sometime in 2024.
An acute shortage of classrooms remains an urgent concern.
During a hearing of the Senate committee on basic education last week, the DepEd said the Philippines faces an alarming shortfall of 159,000 classrooms for the ongoing school year. This surpasses the previous year’s shortage of 91,000 classrooms, and is a far cry from the DepEd’s plan to cut the deficit to 40,000.
At the hearing, the DepEd presented data showing that about half of all 7,520 existing senior high school classrooms are congested, as are 41 percent of the 10,188 junior high school classrooms and 32 percent of primary school (K-6) classrooms.
Assistant Secretary Francis Bringas said the department is considering some strategies to address the classroom shortage, such as blended learning and a voucher program that will enable some students to go to private schools.
To build all the needed 159,000 classrooms, the DepEd estimated they would need at least P397 billion.
The department is asking for P10 billion for classroom construction in 2024, but this will cover only about 7,100 classrooms, it said.
On the first day of classes, Duterte is scheduled to be in Cebu province, visiting a “last-mile” or rural school in Asturias town in northern Cebu, before going to Melecio Tito Elementary School in Danao City.
Despite the shortage of classrooms, the DepEd said all systems are go for the first day of classes on Aug. 29.
Bringas said in an interview with CNN Philippines that the problem will be solved by institutionalizing blended learning.
“We have learned in the pandemic that there are many best practices that were done and we intend to look at these and incorporate them into our system of developing a standard in institutionalized blended learning,” Bringas said.
“We will be looking into a new definition of classrooms and learning spaces,” he added.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers, however, said school furniture such as chairs and tables, and reading materials are still in short supply.
“We are also calling out the struggle when it comes to teachers’ wages, which does not mean the living wage. We are requesting a P50,000 entry level salary for our educators,” ACT chairperson Vladimer Quetua said.
Around ten to fifteen teachers are due to participate in a protest tomorrow in Mendiola, Manila before they report to their respective classes tomorrow. Quetua has referred to it as symbolic in their struggle.
Meanwhile, Land Transportation Office (LTO) chief Vigor Mendoza II directed all regional directors and other agency officials to coordinate with local government units and the Department of Education to assist in road safety measures as millions of students will go back to schools for today’s school opening.
He issued a memorandum saying close coordination with the LGUs, school authorities and other concerned agencies is necessary for a safe and orderly opening of the classes for both public and private schools in their areas of jurisdiction.
He tasked his agency’s personnel to keep an eye out for overloaded, unregistered or illegal school service vehicles and to also conduct verification of drivers’ license and motor vehicle registration.
LTO offices must ensure the road worthiness of public transportation and school services, and assist in the management of traffic situations in schools along major thoroughfares and traffic chokepoints, he said.
Also on Monday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian proposed that P1.52 billion be earmarked in the 2024 budget to certify about 400,000 technical-vocational-livelihood (TVL) track learners.
Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate committee on basic education, said these certifications would make a huge difference in terms of helping TVL graduates get a job and address what he previously called a “dead end” for senior high school graduates.
He pointed to the low certification rate among senior high school graduates who took the TVL track.
Out of the 486, 278 senior high school graduates who took the TVL track for School Year (SY) 2019-2020, only 127,796 took the national certification and 124,970 passed. The passing rate among those who took the national certification was 97.8 percent.
But the certification rate among TVL graduates for that school year was only 25.7 percent.