The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) says that another year in high school could cost a family from P8,000 to P10,000 ($143.16 to $178.95, based on an exchange rate of P55.88 for every U.S. dollar). Computed for 10 months or 205 days with classes, a student would spend P39 to P48 ($0.70 to $0.86) a day. Many families cannot afford to send their children to the program since they belong to the 70 percent of the population who lives on P82 ($1.47) or less per day.
By AUBREY SC MAKILAN
As a result of the Department of Education?s (DepEd) High School Bridge Program, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) National Chairperson Antonio Tinio said that even more students would drop out of high school once the bridge program is implemented.
ACT was reacting to the bridge program which requires Grade 6 pupils who did not pass the High School Readiness Test last May 24 to go through remedial classes in Mathematics, English and Science. Education officials shelved the program temporarily in the middle of last week following nationwide protests by student groups led by the League of Filipino Students (LFS). It is up to the parents, the officials said, whether or not to enroll their children to the program.
In the wake of protests by parents, teachers, and students against the bridge program, the DepEd argued that it is ?an affirmative action program in favor of poorer families.? The DepEd said that the bridge program will only cost the parents ?incidental expenses? like uniforms, school supplies, baon (allowance) and transportation.
On the other hand, ACT said that in school year 2003-2004, the number of dropouts reached 1.7 million students, of whom 1.2 million were in grade school while around 500,000 were in high school. The number of dropouts is about 10 percent of total enrollees throughout the country.
A mother?s lament
Flor Martinez attended a meeting last June 10 with the administration of the school where her two children are enrolled. Bernard and Bernaline, both incoming first year high school students, were among the 100 students who took the High School Readiness Test (HSRT) at Maysan High School in Valenzuela City just north of Manila. Her two children, together with 84 other students, failed the test.
Bernard and Bernaline scored 17 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Despite their failing grades, mother still enrolled them as regular first year high school students.
Flor?s husband Nardo drives a delivery truck for P200 ($3.58) a day, lower than the P280 ($5.01) daily minimum wage in the National Capital Region. In a week, there are at least two days when he has no income. Flor, on the other hand, sometimes sells viands to augment her husband?s income. Most of the time, she borrows money from usurers at an interest rate of 20 percent.
?Kahit naman ?di ko gustong mangutang wala naman akong magagawa kung may kailangang bayaran agad,? she lamented. ?Kung meron man kaming kikitain, pambayad lang? yun ng utang. Masama nito ?pag walang kita, uutang na naman para pambayad lang sa nauna naming utang.? (Even if I don?t want to borrow money, I am forced to do so especially if I need to pay for something. What I earn is just enough to pay off debts. It?s worse if there is no income, since I need to borrow in order to settle previous debts.)
This, according to Flor, is what makes her children?s additional year in high school unthinkable.
Solving problems in student competencies
According to education officials, the bridge program was conceptualized because of the poor performance of Grade 6 students in the National Diagnostic Test (NDT) conducted in July 2002 and 2003. The test, based on the full elementary school competencies in English, Mathematics and Science, was meant to find out whether grade school graduates are prepared for high school.
DepEd described the bridge program as ?an intensive one-year program in English, Science and Math to improve on the competencies needed to complete a full High School curriculum (Four Years).? It further said, ?Students taking the one-year bridge will be better prepared to tackle the Regular HS 1 curriculum in the following years.?
In addition, all students taking regular high school program should ?meet all the prescribed learning competencies,? and will be graded ?on the new Performance-based Grading system with 75 percent as passing. Failing subjects will have to be repeated in the succeeding year.?
Education in crisis
ACT?s Tinio, however, disagreed with DepEd. “We oppose the Bridge Program because it does not address the roots of the alarming decline in the quality of education of public schools,” he said.
Tinio attributed the poor performance of students to the ?dramatic reduction of government spending on education, which has created record levels of shortages of teachers, classrooms, and other key resources in our public schools.”
In the reenacted budget of 2004, only P4 billion was allocated for the DepEd compared to the P40.8 billion allotted for debt payment. ACT said that the P4-billion reduction in the education budget went to the Department of National Defense (DND) and Commission on Elections (Comelec).
The cost of the big education budget slice, ACT said, is the loss of at least 2,500 new classrooms worth P1 billion and 10,000 new teacher items and 1,666 new principal items worth P970.5 million ($17.37 million), among others. The teachers alliance also noted that the most serious crisis has been recorded during the school year 2003-2004 (see table 1).
The new school year, ACT also said, will see an increase in the shortage of teachers to 51,319 and classrooms to 42,641.
Asked to comment on the shortages, Education Secretary Edilberto de Jesus questioned the statistics of ACT. ACT countered that the DepEd claims a lower level of shortages because it changed its standard from 45 students per class to 60.
In Payatas Elementary School, class hours were reduced from six to only three to accommodate more students due to shortage of classrooms. Tinio said DepEd called this an ?emergency case? but h