By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
We’ve seen these poignant images year after year: children holding their classes under the cover of a tree, the lack of classrooms and school buildings forcing students to camp out elsewhere, children walking barefoot or barely-there slippers to school, and teachers for practically all school ages in just one classroom in faraway villages.
These are just some of the perennial problems that the Department of Education (DepEd) faces every year as public and private schools open in the month of June.
“We are confident that this coming school year, the matter of school buildings and others will likely be resolved. We are very confident that we will not face the same problems that we faced last year,” said Education Secretary Leonor Briones on the preparations being undertaken by DepEd for the opening of School Year (SY) 2018-2019 on June 4 for all public schools.
DepEd Undersecretary for Planning and Field Operations Jesus Mateo said that there will be around 28 million students both from public and private learning institutions who will be trooping back to school this year. “The very objective of the Department is to ensure that all children are in school,” he added.
As of May 11, 2018, the projected enrollment from K to 12 is 27,757,546 public and private schools as well as in State Universities and Colleges (SUCs)/ Local Universities and Colleges (LUCs) nationwide based on data from DepEd Planning Service Director Roger Masapol. Of this number, 23,463,675 (84.5%) students will go to public schools; 4,140,884 (14.9 %) to private schools, and 152,987 (0.6%) to SUCs/LUCs.
Last SY 2017-2018, there were 26.9 million learners under DepEd which included those in the Alternative Learning System (ALS).
Mateo said that “most of our schools are really ready” in terms of classrooms and those who need support are located in highly populated areas where the perennial problem is the lack of buildable space.
“Overall, there are about 15 million who did not finish or did not start basic education and what we consider as out-of-school children, youth, and adults,” said (ALS) Assistant Secretary G.H. Ambat when asked how many Filipinos can be considered “uneducated,” citing Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) 2016 annual poverty indicator survey (APIS) released in June 2017.
For children and youth with ages 6 to 24, those who are out-of-school are about 3.8 million or 10 percent. A Labor Force Survey in 2016 also showed that 28 percent or 12 million of the country’s workforce did not finish basic education. “We assumed that those 6 to 11 years old are uneducated – meaning they couldn’t read or write,” Ambat said. In November to December last year, DepEd also conducted mapping for ALS wherein “the data that we got is about 1.6 million from 6 [years old] to adults.”
DepEd continues to strengthen the ALS to “give the same equivalent to formal school.” However, certain adjustments are being made depending on the capacity of learners. The cumulative target for three years (2016, 2017, and 2018) is two million ALS enrollees.
Ambat said the DepEd is tracking down thousands of out-of-school children and youths OSCYs in Sabah, Malaysia, Italy, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Hong Kong after receiving reports that many of them were not able to finish basic education. Some went to UAE and Hong Kong for employment using fake diplomas.
Speeding up on SPED
The DepEd admits that Special Education (SPED) is “falling a little behind.”
“Comparing from the previous years, we are improving but there is a lot that needs to be done,” said DepEd Bureau of Learning Delivery-Student Inclusion Division (BLD-SID) Supervising Education Program Specialist Nancy Pascual.
“The challenge is identification because of the fact that there are so many parents who are in denial,” Pascual said.
There are only 678 schools in 258 divisions that offer the SPED program. Pascual said that ideally, all public schools should be offering SPED program “but there are some schools that are not offering the program; that is why the children are forced to go to a faraway school.”
The lack of SPED teachers is also a challenge since there are “2,601 SPED teachers in elementary and only 284 in secondary.” In one inclusive class, Pascual said that “there should only be 33 regular pupils and two children with the same exceptionalities.”