Bongbong calls for bigger education budget, cites alarming New York Times report

27 August 2009

Warning of a rising emergency in the public school system, Congressman Bongbong Marcos of Ilocos Norte today (August 27) urged Congress and the Executive to join together in “a spirit of bipartisanship” to increase education’s share in the national budget next year and include schoolroom construction in the economic stimulus plan.

The congressman cited a report in the New York Times of August 24 that reported the Philippines as having “an education budget so small that it cannot find space to teach its children.”

The US newspaper reported that the country still lacks 27,124 classrooms despite a classroom-building program launched by government three years ago. The shortage is so grave that some teachers use amplifiers to address students that number over 100 per class, said the report. To squeeze in new school entrants every year, Government has taken to partitioning classrooms, converting stairwells and corridors into miniature classrooms, and introducing double sessions.

The paper also said the toilet facilities of public schools are a major problem, with 62 percent of schools suffering shortages. In Manila, there is “an average of one toilet for every 143 high school students and one for every 114 elementary school students.”

With the school population rising every year, Congressman Marcos said that Government needs to alter its budgetary priorities to relieve the crisis. “We have to catch with needs; otherwise we could lose our edge in human resources,” he said.

Citing figures from the World Bank, he pointed out that the Philippines spends $138 per student per year, in contrast to Thailand which spends $853 per student, Singapore $1,800, and Japan $5.000.

The congressman has written Education Secretary Jesli Lapus to seek a meeting and discuss the situation and how Congress can specifically help in increasing the education budget.

He also wrote personal letters to members of both the House and the Senate to call attention not only to the New York Times report, but to join in “a concerted effort to use the power of the purse to meet the education crisis.” #



Article in New York Times
Global Edition
The Philippines Face Classroom Shortage

Published: August 24, 2009

MANILA — When Irene Mendevil, a high school English teacher, shouts at her students, she said, she gets a sore throat. So she has begun to use an amplifier.

“I had the experience of losing my voice completely,” she said of her constant shouting. “No sounds came out of my mouth. I had to write on paper to tell my students what to do.”

Ms. Mendevil, 33, shouts because her class is so big that just getting the students to listen is a challenge. There are 100 of them, more or less the same number as in the other classes here in Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma High School.

And the school itself is not unusual in a country whose population of 92 million is exploding so fast, and whose education budget is so small, that it cannot find space to teach its children.
More children are also coming into the public schools as the economy tightens and families cannot afford the haven of private schools, with their smaller classes.

This school year opened with a nationwide enrollment of 21 million students from elementary through high school, almost exactly a million more than in the previous year.

Although the government began a classroom-building program three years ago, the schools are still 27,124 classrooms short, according to Juan Miguel Luz, a former under secretary of education who works with the National Institute of Policy Study, which advocates better education policies.
To squeeze in all the students, many classrooms have been divided into two by partitions. Stairwells and corridors have been converted into miniature classrooms. In 2006, double sessions were introduced to take off some of the pressure.

Toilets are a problem of their own, with 62 percent of schools suffering shortages, Bashir Rasuman, under secretary for public works, said recently. In the capital, Manila, Education Department figures show an average of one toilet for every 143 high school students and one for every 114 elementary school students.

Here at Muñoz-Palma High School, some lavatories have been converted into claustrophobic faculty lounges, while the lounges have been put to use as classrooms.
“I have 106 students in my class and 90 seats,” said Rico Encinares, 34, a chemistry teacher. “Everybody has seats if some of them are absent. But if they all come, there are not enough seats. They have to share seats.”

Only about 10 percent of his students — the truly motivated ones — get a quality education, he said. Individual attention is almost impossible.

“I don’t know the names of all my students, even at the end of the school year,” he said. “You only remember the ones who are very noisy or very good. But the silent ones who just sit there listening, you can’t recall their names.”

He said he planned to buy an amplifier to reach the ones in the back rows as soon as he had the money.
According to the World Bank, the Philippines spends $138 per student per year. By comparison, Thailand spends $853 per student, Singapore spends $1,800 and Japan spends $5,000.
The Philippine government spends 2.19 percent of its budget on education, according to official figures, well short of the 6 percent that educators say is optimal — despite a constitutional mandate to make education a priority.

At the start of the decade, educators talked of a radical overhaul of the education system, but the main change since then has been increasingly intense overcrowding, Mr. Luz, of the policy study institute, wrote in a recent paper.

“Sadly, today, we have the same overcrowded structure, the same processes and the same low education standards but with millions more children to attend to,” he said.
In her state of the nation speech last month, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo called education a priority and said the government was building new classrooms.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said in a report that the department planned to build 1,908 new classrooms and renovate 2,513 classrooms. He said 6,322 toilets would be installed, though only 194 were to be completed this year. Not long ago, Mr. Lapus also announced that schools would be collecting scrap material to build and repair furniture.

In the Department of Education, a certain amount of manpower was used working out the alliteration of a new program called Operation 10 R — recycle, repair, refurbish, rehabilitate, restore, remodel, repaint, renew, redistribute and reuse.

At the Muñoz-Palma High School, students scavenge for plastic bottles, hauling them in huge sacks to help pay the costs of school equipment.

At the Payatas Elementary School nearby, Edmon Miguel Jr., 24, is spending his own money to try to improve conditions.

“We are just waiting for our salary, the other teacher and me,” said Mr. Miguel, who earns 9,000 pesos, or $187, a month. “We will make it a beautiful classroom. We will make it a classroom conducive to learning.”

His classroom is a narrow passageway with a tin roof and no windows where 62 children ages 8 to 12 sit crammed together at tiny desks. It floods during monsoon season.
“When it rains, my shoes get wet, but I continue to teach the children,” Mr. Miguel said. “Sometimes their notebooks fall in the water.”

This is a poor community, he said, and he sometimes buys notebooks and paper for the students. “So each time we have a test,” he said, “I buy them a piece of paper.” #