By ZYSA MEI ELLORAN
MANILA – For Filipino teacher Ruby Bernardo, it is dismaying to open this year’s classes with rooms and chairs still lacking for students. But this, she said, is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg that beleaguer the country’s education sector.
“Teachers have long suffered from an atrocious education system in the country. It is high time for the government to address these problems,” Bernardo, Alliance of Concerned Teachers – NCR Union President, told Bulatlat.
ACT Philippines has recently called for higher budget allocation to address the shortage of teaching and non-teaching personnel, classrooms, facilities, learning and teaching resources in the education sector.
In the proposed 2024 budget, the education department is set to receive P758.6 billion, a 39-percent increase from 2022. This will allocate a per capita budget of P27,000 or P121 daily.
According to independent thinktank Ibon Foundation, DepEd has 13.2 percent allocation in the proposed P5.768-trillion 2024 national budget, second only to the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) with 14.3 percent. Because of this, various agencies under the Department of Education grapple with budget cuts.
Such budget cuts are happening in light of the increased confidential and intelligence funds for the education department.
“It manifests a kind of government that does not prioritize education. Although it is written in the Constitution that it should have the highest budget priority, that has yet to happen,” Bernardo said.
Overworked, low pay
According to Bernardo, public school teachers are still among government workers who are receiving insufficient pay, with ACT campaigning for teachers to receive a salary of at least P50,000 ($880) a month.
According to ACT Philippines, some 92 percent of public school teachers received an “unlivable salary,” a far cry from the government’s own ideal family living wage for the Philippine capital pegged at P1,164 per day or P25,327 per month.
“Despite being overworked, the situation has forced teachers to do side jobs to make ends meet. This goes to show how we are given value in our public service,” she said.
Public school teachers also juggle non-teaching tasks due to staff shortages and the bulk of reports and papers they need to finish.
Bernardo said the Philippine government needs to hire non-teaching staff such as guidance counselors, nurses, clerk, and more. Based on ACT’s estimates, at least 94,000 non-teaching staff nationwide as additional workforce in school are needed.
Under the fourth tranche of the Salary Standardization Law 5 (SSL 5), public school teachers who are ranked Teacher I to III are set to receive a monthly salary of P27,000 to P31,320.
Government-run schools have officially opened on Monday, Aug. 29 despite the lack of 159,000 classrooms, for which DepEd has an allocated annual budget of P10 billion. This is slightly lower than the estimated number of classrooms that need to be built according to ACT, pegged at nearly 175,000 classrooms, to cater for an ideal 35 number of learners per class.
This has since resulted in congestion in some public schools and has reached up to three shifts of classes per day.
Bernardo found it difficult to teach 50 students in one classroom.
“It’s difficult because you can’t see the development of the students,” she said.
To lower the teacher-student ratio, ACT said the DepEd needs to hire 145,000 new teachers.
This will also entail needing 13,249,187 chairs to meet the expected enrollment in congruence with the current number of armchairs, new desks, and tables particularly in DepEd’s school and infrastructure facilities data.
“The congress should ensure substantial appropriations in the annual budget to build 50,000 classrooms yearly, until 2028 to end classroom shortage,” ACT said.
Education Assistant Secretary Francis Bringas said the total shortage includes school facilities destroyed by disasters.
To address this shortage and the congested classrooms, he introduced the DepEd’s long term solution which is the institutionalization of blended learning.
“We have learned from our two years of pandemic that there are many best practices that we’re conducted or that were done in several schools all over the country and we intend to look at these best practices to incorporate them into our system of developing a standard and institutionalized blending learning,” he told CNN Philippines.
Rechanneling of confidential, intel funds
While the education department prohibits donations for classroom repairs, Bernardo said that without such, “we shell out our own money for schools needs.”
According to ACT, in the 2022 annual audit report on DepEd, the Commission on Audit (COA) found out that DepEd failed to utilize a total amount of P27.420 billion funds including P10.268 billion for Capital Outlay for construction of classrooms, buildings, and other school facilities; P9.802 billion for School Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE); and P2 billion for National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Calamity Fund – Quick Response Fund.
Based on the 2023 Deped Basic Education Report, around 104,536 out of 327,851 school facilities are still in ‘good condition’. The General Appropriations Act of 2023 showed that the government is only targeting the completion of 6,379 classrooms this year.
From 327,851 school buildings, according to Duterte 100,072 need minor repair, 89,252 require major repair, and 21,727 are set for condemnation. The 2023 budget allocation for the new construction of school buildings is P15.6 billion and P4.9 billion for the repair of existing classrooms.
Meanwhile, the review of budget documents submitted to Congress revealed that the 2024 target completion of classrooms is 1,628 lower than this year’s target. The government is also targeting 3,943 classroom constructions for next year.
For 2024, the government only proposed a budget of P33.7 billion for basic education school facilities. It includes P19.6 billion for the construction, replacement, and completion of new school buildings; 6.5 billion for the repair of existing facilities; and P2 billion for the construction of medium-rise school buildings and installation of disability access facilities.
Despite the increased budget, ACT said that this is not enough to address the shortage.
Also, despite the glaring shortages in the sector, Education Secretary Sara Duterte is set to receive a proposed P150 million confidential funds as part of the proposed budget for 2024.
“Because education is intertwined with national security. It’s very important that we mold children who are patriotic, children who will love our country, and who will defend our country,” Duterte told reporters during an ambush interview.
However, ACT called on DepEd to rechannel its confidential funds to allow the building of more classrooms, and the hiring of teaching and non-teaching personnel, to name a few.
“The agency fixates on intensifying anti-labor and union rights programs in close coordination with National Task Force Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) leading to more violations of teachers and education workers’ trade union rights and freedom of expression and association,” ACT said.
Public school teachers are set to receive allowances and compensation from the government such as teaching allowances, clothing allowance, performance-based bonus, and rice allowance.
Yet, it is still not enough since, according to Bernardo, all of these allowances and benefits are overly delayed and a low amount to sustain their daily teaching tools. Public school teachers also don’t have health benefits and sick leave.
“We have a teaching supply allowance worth P5,000 per year, which means it will not be able to reach P20 per day. And we only borrowed the money for us to buy a laptop. We also shoulder the supplies that we need in school such as staples, cartolina, and pentel pens because the teaching allowance is not enough,” Bernardo added.
Parents are also struggling with the daily cost of their child’s education like Dess Dela Cruz who said that her partner’s salary is hardly enough to provide for their children’s needs, particularly for education.
Dess has three children currently enrolled in basic education: her eldest child (Grade 8) is 14 years old, while her middle child (Grade 6) is 11, and the youngest (Grade 1) is five years old.
Dess’s partner is a security guard and a minimum wage earner based on the National Capital Region (NCR) rate. He receives a minimum wage of P610 a day. Dess helps her partner by washing the clothes of their neighbors. Her earning at least supplements the household expenses and their children’s education.
“There were times that they would ask our relatives for allowance to buy snacks during their break time in school. When it comes to their school supplies, we can’t afford to buy new ones. We just reuse what we have. Every time they have classes, our expenses and debt increase,” she told Bulatlat.
In 2021, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reported that at least 36 percent of Filipino families incur loans and debts to afford their children’s education.
UNESCO claims that the Philippines has the highest percentage of families who borrow money for their children’s education.
The number is higher than in poorer countries like Uganda, Haiti, and Kenya, where 30 percent of families resort to loans or credit to pay for education.
However, government agencies like the Department of Social Welfare and Development have an Educational Assistance Program that supports students from low-income families financially.
According to DSWD, up to three students per indigent family can receive aid worth P1,000 for elementary students, P2,000 for high school students, P3,000 for senior high school students, and P4,000 for tertiary students.
Dess called on Marcos Jr. to increase the minimum wage of workers and make it livable.
“The current wage is not enough for one family because if you want your family to eat three times a day, your minimum salary will go only to food, how about other expenses like electricity, and the school needs of our children.” (JJE, RTS, RVO)