Overcrowding, confusion mar opening of classes

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Students of the Casili Elementary School in San Rafael, Rodriguez, Rizal province ride a bamboo raft to reach their school. Some children cross the river by foot. PHOTO BY MIKE DE JUAN

The Department of Education (DepEd) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) declared Monday’s opening of classes as “smooth and orderly,” but the exodus of students from private to public schools swelled school rosters, triggering confusion among parents and school officials alike.

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Jesus Mateo, DepEd assistant secretary for Planning, said the first day of classes went smoothly in general despite the perennial complaints mostly from parents.

Mateo singled out the Corazon Aquino Elementary School in Quezon City as one of the schools that reported problems in enrollment and overcrowding.

“As we speak right now, the other DepEd officials and employees are monitoring situations from the field,” Mateo told a press briefing.

According to him, the department’s Oplan Balik Eskuwela worked well. The biggest concern reported to the DepEd’s command center was students transferring from private to public schools.

Congestion
Luz Almeda, director of the National Capital Region (NCR), said among the schools that reported congestion were those in the cities of Las Piñas, Caloocan, Mandaluyong, Malabon and Quezon.

The problems were mainly due to late enrollment, Almeda said.

“Based on our monitoring, overcrowding only happened in about five percent of the total number of public schools in Metro Manila,” she said.

For this school year, Almeda said triple shifting is no longer a problem.

“Bagama’t may 12 elementary schools and 21 secondary schools ang may problema pa sa overcrowding at ito yung may 55 na estudyante per class,” Almeda said after doing the round of schools in Metro Manila on Monday.

She visited the Commonwealth Elementary School (ES), Benigno Aquino ES, Rosa Susano ES and Quirino ES—all in Quezon City and Navotas High School, where student overpopulation has long been prevalent.

Last school year, there was overcrowding in 776 schools nationwide.

Contrary to earlier information released by DepEd that 80 percent of the 20.8 million students expected to enroll this year registered in January, it was gathered that only about 11 million actually took advantage of early registration.

According to Mateo, 978,000 out of the 1.7 million kinder students expected to enroll this year have been pre-registered; 6.8 million out of the 13 million elementary students and 3 million out of the 5 million high school students did the same.

Biggest problem
Mateo said the surge of late enrollees was the biggest problem that public schools encountered on Monday.

“Late enrollees greatly contribute to overcrowding in classrooms especially in highly-populated cities because the resources will not be allocated properly,” he said.

The education official also said they will accept late enrollees but they will not be given priority.

“We will still accommodate the late enrollees but we can’t guarantee that they will be accepted in the school where they enrolled,” Mateo explained.

Because of the new enrollees, the DepEd official said class sizes in public schools were bigger than the standard teacher-student ratio of 1:25 for kinder and 1:45 for elementary and secondary.

Overflow
“We are expecting an overflow of students particularly in urban areas with the ratio of 1:58,” Mateo said.

In school year 2011-2012, the ratio was 1:37 in the elementary level and 1:36 in high school, Mateo said. He stressed that “this ratio will be lessened because of the newly-hired and created teacher items.”

“If only all parents participated in the early registration last January, we could have been better prepared for the school opening, especially in resources,” he said.

But the education department said there will be “zero backlog” in education resources despite reports of overcrowded schools and teacher shortages.

Figures from the DepEd also showed that 33,974 classrooms were built with funds not only from the government but also from the private sector.

Of this number, 19,659 one-storey school buildings will be turned over this month.

Mateo said additional 20,498 classrooms are still under procurement.

“This would bring the total to 71,123 by the end of the year which would fully address the classroom shortage based on the 2010 backlog which stood at 66,800,” he said.

He said 36,923 public school teachers have been hired. “Also, we opened 61,510 teacher items and the hiring is still ongoing,” he said, adding that 37,000 teachers being paid by local government units (LGU) have been hired on top of the 35,000 volunteer teachers.

As far as the Philippine National Police (PNP) is concerned, school opening was “generally peaceful,” with no major incidents reported.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Generoso Jr., said some of the incidents they have monitored were administrative in nature and out of their jurisdiction such as missing classrooms.

In Metro Manila, the opening of school was equally peaceful and orderly, according to National Capital Region Police Office chief, Director Leonardo Espina.

There were no reports of untoward incidents, such as students falling prey to criminals, and traffic is smooth, Espina said.

He said police assistance desks were set up in campuses for maximum police visibility.

Protests
But in Quezon City, militant students and some of their parents stormed the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) as well as the DepEd district office denouncing the agency for “safeguarding” the profits of private schools and colleges.

Led by Anakpawis Party-list, the protesters assailed the “government-permitted tuition and other school fee increases” that continue to burden parents and students.

“Instead of regulating tuition and other school fees, CHED allowed private educational institutions to raise fees despite opposition from students and parents, making the cost of education more expensive and unaffordable for many Filipino families,” Fernando Hicap, incoming Anakpawis representative, told The Manila Times.

“By allowing runaway tuition fee hikes, CHED clearly violates the right of Filipino students for a quality and affordable education. It is clear that CHED is safeguarding the profits of private colleges and universities and abandoning the state’s duty to provide education to its citizenry,” Hicap said.

The government, Anakpawis said, approved fee increases for more than 900 private elementary and high schools, with the increase averaging from 6 to 10 percent.

More than 450 higher education institutions (HEIs) applied for tuition and other fee increases this year.

Tuition hikes
According to CHED, the average tuition fee hike per unit for school year 2013-2014 is P37.45 or 8.5 percent nationwide. Most schools that raised tuition and other fees are in Metro Manila, Region 4-A in Southern Tagalog and Region 3.

In Metro Manila the tuition fee increase is P64.04 or 6.70 percent average per unit. In Region 3, it is P44.48 or 8.86 percent per unit.

The highest increases were in Region 2 or Cagayan Valley at P31.26 or 12.25 percent; Region 5 or Bicol at P44.77 or 11.83 percent; and Region 1 or the Ilocos provinces, P34.10 or 11.12 percent.

The nationwide average increase in other school fees was P194.62 or 7.58 percent.

Hicap said the tuition and other fee hikes paid by parents this school year were paid under protest.

K-to-12
Meanwhile, members of the Kabataan Party-list, National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), League of Filipino Students (LFS), and Anakbayan also picketed the DepEd’s National Capital Region office in Quezon City.

The students condemned the “unabated” tuition increases in private grade schools and high schools and the “additional burden” from the implementation of the K-12 program.

“As another school year begins, millions of students are to return to their schools only to find the same old education problems brought about by years of underfunding for education—shortage in facilities, skyrocketing matriculation, and for students in basic education, additional burden through the full-blown implementation of the K-12 program,” Kabataan Partylist President Terry Ridon said.

On May 15, President Benigno Aquino 3rd signed Republic Act. No. 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 (K-12 Law), which introduces two additional years in secondary education and makes Kindergarten mandatory.

But the NUSP lamented that the K-12 law gave parents a heavier burden.

“It does not address existing problems in the basic public education system such as shortages in rooms, educational materials, and other facilities and equipment, underfunding, the orientation of the educational system, and access,” Victor Villanueva, NUSP president, said.

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