21 M students return to school

Ghio Ong, Helen Flores - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Almost 21 million public preschool, elementary and high school students will return to school today even as the government struggles to address classroom congestion, particularly in Metro Manila.

The Department of Education (DepEd) expects this year’s enrollment to reach 20.9 million, of which 1.79 million are in kindergarten, 13.3 million in elementary and 5.8 million in high school.

Authorities, on the other hand, also made preparations to ensure the safety and security of students on the first day of classes.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) distributed flyers titled “Balik Eskwela 2014” providing crime prevention tips and safety reminders for parents and students.

The PNP is more focused on incidents of bullying and street crimes.

Malacañang has directed the PNP to ensure the safety of students in time for resumption of classes in public schools nationwide.

“We are calling on the general public to help ensure the safety of everyone. Let us help each other and coordinate with the authorities so that the resumption of classes will be as peaceful and as smooth as possible,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.

PNP chief Director General Alan Purisima directed all police units to be on alert to ensure orderly and peaceful opening of classes as he instructed police commanders to closely coordinate with the local government units and the DepEd.

Problem of overcrowding

DepEd officials insisted there is “no more classroom shortage” for this school year.

DepEd Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo, however, admitted congestion would remain a problem most especially in urban areas.

“The classroom shortage in Metro Manila is due to the lack of buildable spaces,” he said.

A total of 66,813 classrooms had been built as of December 2013 to address the 2010 backlog of 66,800, according to DepEd.

DepEd-National Capital Region director Luz Almeda said overcrowding of classrooms is still expected in some schools in Metro Manila this school year due to increase in enrollment.

Almeda said some 1,200 students from Yolanda-devastated areas have transferred to schools in Metro Manila.

For school year 2012-2013, DepEd said it achieved a national average classroom to student ratio of 1:40 for elementary and 1:50 for high school.

However, DepEd records also show that, for the same school year, the classroom to student ration was 1:75 for elementary and 1:74 for high school in Metro Manila.

Almeda said total enrollees in public schools in Metro Manila this school year reached 2,172,576 or about .27 percent up from last year.

There are around 900,000 students in private schools, she said.

Among the 20 most congested schools in Metro Manila are Sampaloc Site II Elementary School in Parañaque City, Payatas B Elementary School in Quezon City, Bagong Tanyag Annex B in Taguig City, President Corazon Aquino Elementary School (Quezon City), Bagong Tanyag Elementary School Annex A (Taguig City), San Diego Elementary School (Quezon City), Bagong Silang Elementary School (Caloocan City), Caloocan North Elementary School (Caloocan City), Don Galo Elementary School (Parañaque City) and Libis Baesa Elementary School (Baesa Annex).

The other congested schools included the Sto. Niño National High School in Marikina City, Tinajeros National High School Acacia Annex in Malabon City; Potrero National High School also in Malabon, Holy Spirit National High School in Quezon City, Catmon Integrated School (Malabon City), San Bartolome High School (Quezon City), Captain Albert Aguilar National High School (Las Piñas City), Kalayaan National High School (Las Piñas City), North Fairview High School (Quezon City) and Sampaguita High School (Caloocan City).

Busing system

DepEd has proposed the busing system to address congestion in some schools, where the students who could no longer be accommodated in a school could be transferred to nearby schools.

Mateo cited the case of the Batasan Hills National High School in Quezon City, a congested school.

“The students who could no longer be accommodated in Batasan will be transferred to nearby schools in Cubao, such as Quirino National High School and the Ramon Magsaysay High School, by way of busing,” Mateo said.

“There are schools in Metro Manila with excess classrooms, it’s a matter of distribution,” he said.

Last year, Mateo said 500 new students showed up at the Batasan NHS on the first day of classes, leading to a temporary shortage in armchairs.

In Valenzuela City, 140 students from Malinta Elementary School – Pinalagad Annex will be transported daily to Caruhatan West Elementary School in DepEd vans.

The local school board will shoulder fuel expenses for the entire school year, it said, adding that other DepEd divisions are exploring similar arrangements.

DepEd last Friday scrapped the proposed three-day school week pending further study.

Makeshift classrooms

Meanwhile, thousands of public elementary and high schools students in Yolanda-affected areas will have to make do with makeshift classrooms as they return to school today.

DepEd said classes would still be held in 1,828 makeshift and prefabricated classrooms and 2,555 tents.

DepEd has yet to begin the construction of 2,313 classrooms destroyed by Super Typhoon Yolanda in Regions 4B, 6, 7, 8 and 13 on Nov. 8 last year, leaving pupils to hold classes in temporary structures.

DepEd Undersecretary for Finance Francis Varela said construction was delayed, as they had to redesign the buildings to make them more disaster-resilient.

He said the new design was finalized by the DepEd and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) last April, allowing DepEd division offices to start the public bidding process.

“The construction should start in a month or so because once the division offices award the contract, they should already start,” Varela said.

According to Varela, the DepEd needs about P2.9 billion to construct 2,313 new classrooms.

While the bidding process for the construction of new classrooms is being undertaken, Varela said the DepEd has started repairs on nearly 18,000 classrooms damaged by Yolanda.

He said the total cost for the repair of nearly 18,000 classrooms was estimated at P5.3 billion.

Varela said some P1 billion had been allotted for rehabilitation, adding that funding came from DepEd’s unused allocation from last year’s budget.

He said a total of 17,757 damaged classrooms have yet to be restored pending budget release. -Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Dino Balabo, Ric Sapnu











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