Teachers at the General Pio del Pilar Elementary School in Manila prepare materials for today’s opening of classes. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

    Teachers at the General Pio del Pilar Elementary School in Manila prepare materials for today’s opening of classes. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

    Rallies, crowded classrooms and a big chance of rain loom over the first day of school today.

    More than 20 million elementary and high school students start classes today, but hundreds of them will be transported to less crowded schools under the Department of Education’s (DepEd) busing program.

    Members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) will march to Mendiola in Manila to press their call for a wage increase.

    Students in private schools will start classes on June 4.

    Education Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo admitted that classrooms will be packed in some areas but that DepEd is on top of the problem.

    For this school year, there are 2.1 million children in kindergarten, 14.4 million in elementary, seven million in secondary and 3.4 million in colleges and universities.

    Mateo said the ratio of student to books and chairs is 1:1.

    Reports, however, said in some crowded schools, three students will share a book and a chair.

    This year, DepEd has a 200-day school calendar, with a 20-day “buffer” for school activities and class suspensions.

    Because of congestion, 140 students of the Malinta Elementary School-Pinalagad Annex in Valenzuela City will be transported daily to the Karuhatan West Elementary School in DepEd vans. The local school board will shoulder the fuel expenses for the entire school year.

    Other DepEd divisions may also resort to busing if the number of students swells because of late enrollees.

    In areas devastated by Typhoon Yolanda, classes will be held in makeshift classrooms and “temporary learning spaces” because the government is yet to repair damaged schools, DepEd Assistant Secretary Tonisito Umali said.

    Education Secretary Armin Luistro and other DepEd officials will inspect schools in remote areas today.

    “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,” Luistro said in a statement posted on the DepEd website.

    “We want to let teachers, principals and students know that we have not forgotten them,” he added.

    Luistro will visit schools at the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in a show of solidarity with Muslim Filipinos.

    Last year, Luistro flew to Palawan on school opening day.

    “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,” the DepEd chief said.

    He noted that the standing order is “Day One, Lesson One.”

    “The reason we hold Brigada [Eskwela] and early enrollment is to get those activities out of the way. When they come in on the first day of classes, the teachers should already be teaching,” Luistro said.

    The DepEd’s Oplan Balik Eskwela Action Center will operate until the end of the week to answer queries and receive complaints through (02) 636-1663, (02) 633,1942, or action@deped.gov.ph.

    No fees
    On Sunday, Malacañang warned public school officials against compelling students to pay unwarranted fees, saying the P335.4 billion allocated for DepEd is enough to cover for the needs of millions of students.

    Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Luistro has issued strict guidelines against the collection of “fees and contributions” in state schools.

    Coloma said the DepEd budget this year is the highest among all government agencies and the biggest priority in spending should be the education sector.

    “When the [President Benigno] Aquino [3rd] administration came to power in 2010, the total DepEd budget was P195.9 billion. Since then, the budget rose significantly by 71 percent. DepEd said this will also be used for the construction of 43,1843 new classrooms primarily in preparation for the full implementation of the K-to-12 senior high school program,” he said.

    The first batch of junior high schoolers will enroll in 2015.

    Besides new classrooms, repairs on 9,502 classrooms will be done, including those damaged by Yolanda in the Visayas.

    The 2014 DepEd budget will also be spent on 1.59 million new school desks, 10 library hubs, hiring of 33,194 new teaching staff and 1,500 other employees.

    “DepEd has prepared for the opening of schools, with the help of parents, students. Local community, civic organizations and other civilian organizations,” Coloma said.

    To ensure the peaceful return to school, the Philippine National Police (PNP) will implement a comprehensive program to ensure students’ safety.

    “Our policemen will direct the flow of traffic and monitor petty crimes to prevent them such as holdups and cellphone snatching. The PNP will have their police assistance desks in various municipalities, cities and provinces,” Coloma said.

    Protests and rain
    The ACT rally in Mendiola and other areas, however, is expected to mar the opening of schools.

    ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio blasted the government for ignoring the welfare of teachers.

    He said there would be a call by his group for a “mass leave” of teachers if the government refused to grant them a salary increase.

    There is a big chance of rain on the first day of classes because the entry of the southwest monsoon, government weather forecaster Jori Loiz said in a radio interview.

    Loiz stressed that this does not mean the rainy season has started.

    The weather bureau said the country is transitioning from the dry to the wet season.


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