Climate-ready schools among Marcos' priorities, still needs Congress to align


MANILA, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promised in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) to retrofit schools and facilities that can withstand strong typhoons entering the country and other climate phenomena as part of his broader agenda to build more infrastructure.

"Aside from new construction [of classrooms], schools and facilities are being retrofitted to be ready for the future–ready for hybrid and high-tech learning and also climate-ready and disaster-proof," he said.

A climate-ready and disaster-proof school refers to a "safe, resilient, learning-conducive, inclusive and green school infrastructure" that protects students and education personnel from disasters and climate risks, according to Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 19 s. 2023.

In the agency's Basic Education Report, a total of 17,263 classrooms in Visayas were damaged by super typhoon Odette in 2021, while 2,100 classrooms were devastated by the Magnitude 7 Luzon earthquake in 2022. 

Deped Order No. 6, s. 2021, on the other hand, listed the minimum performance and standard specifications for school buildings to utilize alternative construction materials.

These are the design requirements for a climate-resilient school building:

  • A classroom size of 7.0 m x 9.0 m that can fit 40-50 learners 
  • A 5.0 m width stairwell for safer and easier movement during emergencies
  • An awning window with a height of 1.80 m from the window sill to the floor. This type of window provides a full perimeter pressure seal, reduces external noise and provides better insulation.
  • Panel doors with 1/4 thick clear glass panels for visibility.
  • Security grilles in front and at the rear inside the classroom to safeguard school property.
  • A roof slab with metal decking since this is safer and more practical during typhoons.
  • 6 inches thick railings to protect learners from accidental falls
  • Storm shutters to block strong winds and flying debris caused by typhoons
  • A roofed waiting area to provide sun and rain protection
  • Dry standpipes for multi-story buildings to easily suppress fire in any floor.
  • Overhead water tank to ensure enough water supply
  • Adjustment of electrical plans to prevent overloading of electricity

Should Marcos push for climate-ready schools, he will need to secure Congress' interest in adopting his plans aimed at retrofitting schools to make them climate-ready. 

Damaged and insufficient classrooms

In 2022, DepEd reported a 165,000 shortage of new classrooms nationwide.

With the approved P15.1 billion budget released by the Department of Budget and Management on May 15 to DepEd, nearly 5,000 classrooms can be built in over 1,000 sites nationwide in 2023. This is about 1,000 classrooms shy from what Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte hoped for this year.  

A portion of the funds will also be used to repair and rehabilitate damaged classrooms by climate risks and disasters, Duterte said in her speech about the Basic Education Report 2023 in January.

She added that only one out of three school buildings is in good condition. As a result, over 200,000 school buildings have been affected by natural calamities that require repairs or an entire reconstruction.

Included in the construction are the kindergarten, elementary and secondary school buildings, technical vocational laboratories, disability access facilities and water and sanitation facilities.

Adopting blended learning

Marcos not only wants climate-ready schools, but he also seeks to permanently adopt blended learning for "unhampered learning."

"Taking to heart the lessons of the pandemic, alternative delivery modes and blended learning methodologies have been adopted to ensure unhampered learning," he added.

DepEd spokesperson Michael Poa said this alternative delivery mode will help "decongest our schools" during a Malacañang press briefing on July 11.

Poa also advised school heads during days of unbearable heat in classrooms to maximize blended learning when the environment is not conducive for learning.

Makabayan lawmakers further stressed the need to return to the old school calendar of June to March to mitigate the impact of weather conditions, filing House Bill 8550 on June 19.

Marcos acknowledged this issue and said on April 24 that the decision to do so is not an easy one. He also says, however, that whether the country reverts to the old calendar will be decided soon.

For schools to become climate-resilient, the president will have to convince the legislative branch of its importance as Filipino children are the most vulnerable to climate-related hazards.

UNICEF reported in its latest East Asia and Pacific report that at least 96 percent of Filipino children experience multiple, overlapping climate-related hazards like floods, water scarcity, heatwaves, air pollution, tropical cyclones and vector-borne diseases.

Should Congress align its plans in constructing climate-resilient classrooms by providing appropriate budget and measures, lesser Filipino learners will have to suffer from the effects of natural hazards. —Intern, Dominique Nicole Flores

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