Overcrowded classrooms and a lack of school desks were the common problems reported on the first day of classes on Monday in public elementary and high schools nationwide.
Metro Manila had the most number of packed classrooms. In Caloocan City, as many as 78 students were squeezed into classrooms that should only hold 45 persons.
Luz Almeda, regional director for the National Capital Region (NCR) office of the Department of Education (DepEd), attributed the overcrowding to the dense population in cities.
“Ang karamihan ng problema ngayon ay kulang talaga ng classrooms and armchairs [We really lack classrooms and armchairs]. We used laboratories into classrooms. We divided the classrooms into two. We used science labs, libraries, lanai [corridors], and principals’ offices,” she said.
“The problem is how we can further reduce the class size. Meron talaga tayo oversized [classrooms]. Overflowing talaga. We hope the city governments can donate lots for the new school buildings. Hindi na kami tumatanggap ng donation for one-storey school building,” Almeda said.
She said they had to adopt the double shifting scheme in Caloocan City to accomodate all enrollees. The first shift is from 6 a.m. to 12 noon and the second is from 12 noon to 6 p.m.
“Since we cannot implement the 3-day school week, nag-dodouble shifting na kami. In Caloocan City, two shifts na nga ang classes doon pero malaki pa rin ang class size from 65, 70, and 78 students per classroom. Kung nakapag 3-day school week sana, 45 nalang per classroom,” she added.
Almeda said the top 20 schools in Metro Manila that are highly congested were those in the cities of Quezon (6), Las Piñas (2), Caloocan (4), Malabon (3) and Quezon, Taguig (2), Parañaque (2), and Marikina (1).
For this school year, 82 percent of the 764 in Metro Manila implemented the double shifting scheme.
Jesus Mateo, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Planning, said the first day of classes went smoothly despite the perennial complaints mostly from parents.
But many students in Eastern Visayas held classes in hot tents.
But the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) claimed the government was not ready for Monday’s school opening.
“The more correct pronouncement would be, teachers are ready, as we always do. Teachers are as excited as the kids during the first day of school, we consider this as a new beginning,” Benjo Basas, the group’s national chairperson, said.
“There are schools in Samar and Leyte that until now have not rebuilt even a single classroom. Still, some of them are used as evacuation centers particularly in Tacloban City and Tanauan, Leyte,” he added.
“The classroom shortage is a problem in a ‘normal’ condition, it would be worse in the disaster areas. Thus, the immediate construction of school buildings is very much needed. Teachers and children in some schools will hold classes under the trees or in any available space, especially the schools which are not recipients of donations of temporary classrooms from international nongovernment organizations,” Basas explained.
The militant youth group League of Filipino Students (LFS) staged a protest on the first day of classes.
Youth and students led by LFS and other youth groups marched to Mendiola along with members of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) to denounce the government’s disregard of problems in the education sector.
“No matter how many lies and tricks they take out of their sleeve, the government will remain unsuccessful in denying the fact that the system is problematic. Parents, students, and teachers are all swamped under the deplorable quality of education,” Charlotte Velasco, the group’s national chairperson, said.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) also said the opening of classes was generally peaceful.
PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor said police regional offices nationwide reported as of noontime Monday that the situation was normal in their areas.
In Southern Tagalog region, however, still unidentified suspects robbed an elementary school of P700 in cash and a digital camera worth P12,000 early on Monday.
Mayor said robbed was Paaralang Elementarya ng Maitim Segundo in Barangay Maitim, 2nd East, Tagaytay, Cavite.
In Makati City in Metro Manila, 80,000 students were given free school supplies and uniform.
Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay set aside P1.3 billion of the P2-billion budget for education to support public school students from pre-school to high school.
Binay said they alloted P520 million for ‘Project Free’ this school year.
WITH REPORTS FROM ANTHONY VARGAS AND RUFFIE CRUZ