Much to the consternation of various youth groups, some public schools that are supposed to provide free education are now charging tuition and other fees. The age-old problems of teacher shortage and lack of facilities, along with higher tuition, are more than enough basis for the protest actions being organized in time for the opening of classes this June.
BY AUBREY MAKILAN
Vol. VII, No. 17, June 3-9, 2007
No less than Education Secretary Jesli Lapuz said that collection of school fees is not a prerequisite to enrollment in public elementary and high schools where students enjoy free tuition.
But Aling Nena (who requested anonymity for fear that the school administration might get back at her children) even paid a much higher “tuition” this year for her two daughters at Lawang Bato High School, a public school in Valenzuela City.
Last year, she said she paid P100 ($2.17, based on an exchange rate of P46.08 per US dollar) as tuition. This enrollment, it increased to P200 ($4.34), excluding the Parents-Teacher Association (PTA) fee of P100 ($2.17).
Aside from that, she said parents also complained to the Department of Education (DepEd) about the cost of the school uniform. Aling Nena said that in the recent PTA meeting, the school administration and the parents agreed that only the costs of the uniforms of the freshmen will increase.
However, they discovered that the school changed the uniform for sophomores, requiring the latter’s parents to order new sets of uniforms from the school. Aling Nena was dismayed that her sophomore daughter could no longer use her old uniform. And since a new set of uniform costs P450 ($9.77) each for small size, she might be forced to spend P900 ($19.53) if her daughter were to have two sets which she will use for the whole week.
Lapuz said that “contributions, whether for student activities or for upgrading of school facilities, can only be collected from students on a voluntary basis.”
At Paso de Blas Elementary School, a public school also in Valenzuela, P20 ($0.43) is being collected upon enrolment for the repainting of the school, said Mercy, a parent of a Grade II student. She said others who could not really afford the P20 ($0.43) would not pay. “Pero paano ka naman tatanggi kapag kaharap mo na ang teacher?” she said, noting that it might have a negative impact on her child’s relationship with the teacher. (But how can you refuse if you are in front of the teacher?)
For her daughter studying at Maysan National High School, another public school in Valenzuela, she paid “tuition” amounting to P200 ($4.34). The receipt, however, only reflected an amount of P190 ($4.12). She was told that the remaining P10 ($0.22) was for the school paper.
The DepEd said that public schools are authorized to collect fees only for Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Red Cross and the Anti-TB campaign and these are “voluntary.” Contributions for school papers should not be more than P55 and P80 ($1.19 and $1.74) for elementary and secondary levels, respectively. DepEd-recognized student organizations are also allowed to collect “voluntary contributions” up to P55 ($1.19) per student.
The DepEd Oplan Balik Eskwela (Operation Back to School) Command Center reported that it is now investigating several public schools after receiving complaints about the illegal collection of fees in these schools. Among those being investigated are Novaliches Elementary School (ES), Krus na Ligas ES, Barangay Holy Spirit ES, Commonwealth ES, San Antonio ES and Lagro National High School in Quezon City.
Aside from the tuition and fee increases, students also suffer from shortages of teachers, classrooms and facilities.
Lapus said that there is no teacher shortage this school year for primary and secondary public schools. “With 16,390 new teachers, we actually eliminated the problem of shortage of teachers in the public school system.”
The proposed teaching post allocation is broken down into 8,586 for elementary schools and 7,804 for high schools. Region 4-A gets the most number of new teachers with 3,850, followed by the National Capital Region (NCR) with 2,583. Central Luzon is third with 1,598 new teaching allocations.
But youth organizations are doubtful if the shortage was really filled up. The groups said that just last year, the DepEd data pegged the shortage of teachers at 49,699, classroom shortage at 57,930 and armchair shortage at 3.48 million.
Kabataan Party President Raymond Palatino said the Philippines has one of the lowest per capita spending for education in Asia at P3,557 ($77.19). “That means less than P10 ($0.22) per day for every student.”
Not just a prevalent practice in elections, “dagdag-bawas” (“addition-subtraction” or “vote padding-vote shaving”) also victimizes the education sector, Palatino said.
Palatino said that private tertiary schools have allegedly long developed and perfected its own “dagdag-bawas” machinery with yearly tuition hikes.
The youth leader said that reports of tuition increases involving hundreds of schools nationwide only confirmed what they said earlier that the anomalous suspension of the tuition cap early this year would be used by school owners to increase tuition beyond the inflation rate.
Reports from the League of Filipino Students (LFS), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and Anakbayan (Sons and Daughters of the People) revealed that the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) approved tuition increases in 88 schools in the NCR.
Palatino said that the CHED, Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA) and the Arroyo administration connived to suspend the implementation of CHED Memorandum Order (CMO) No. 14 and subsequent amendments CMO 42 and CMO 7 which prohibited private schools from increasing their tuition above the 6.2-percent inflation rate.
He questioned the timing of the suspension last Feb. 20 as it came out in the middle of tuition consultations in various private schools and after COCOPEA’s meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a week earlier.
“Even state universities, which are supposed to accommodate poor but deserving students, have increased their tuition,” said Vencer Crisostomo, LFS national chairperson. “As a result, many deserving students have not been able to enroll.”
At the University of the Philippines, tuition increased from P300 to P1,000 ($6.51 to $21.70) per unit.
At the Eulogio “Amang” Rodriguez Institute of Science and Technology (EARIST), the tuition increased from P15 to P100 ($0.33 to $2.17) per unit, said sisters Irene and Angie Benjamin. They added that miscellaneous fees for old students also increased.
If the “dagdag” scheme meant “tuition padding,” the youth group said that the decrease in the number of enrollees and the corresponding upsurge in the number of dropouts and out-of-school youth led to “bawas” (reduction). “With higher tuition rates and more preventive (prohibitive) fees being charged both in public and private institutions, we fear that the number of drop outs will double this coming semester,” warned Palatino.
According to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, the worsening economic conditions in the country have denied millions of children the right to a decent education as shown by increasing drop out rates.
Data from the Department of Education showed that dropout rates, which had been steadily improving during the 1990s, worsened since the year 2000. It reached 10.6 percent in the elementary level and 15.8 percent in the secondary level in school year (SY) 2005-2006. Comparing these rates to enrolment figures during the same year would show that as many as 2.4 million children may have dropped out of school last year, said Ibon.
Ibon said that majority of those who dropped out came from public schools. Enrolment in public elementary schools fell by 106,903 in SY 2005-2006 while that in public secondary schools decreased by 64,746.
Palatino said that the trend for the past 10 years showed that for every 10 pupils who enrolled in grade school, only seven graduated. “Students drop out because of poverty. While basic education is free, many poor families are unable to finance the auxiliary school needs of their children.”
Citing the 2003 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FEIS), Palatino said Filipinos are now allocating less for their education.
He said the average spending of families on school fees, books and supplies fell to 4.0 percent from 4.2 percent during the three-year period as average family income in the country also declined 10 percent between 2000 and 2003. Before the turn of the millennium, the share of educational expenses had been gradually increasing, he said.
“Unfortunately, most Filipino families now have to make a choice between sending their children to school and spending their meager income on food in order to survive. Poverty and government neglect have made education a luxury to many of our countrymen,” Palatino said.
Because of this, many of these children might have been forced to leave school to earn a living, Ibon said. In 2006, it reported that some 2.5 million children aged 5 to 17 were working either to augment family income or simply to survive. It added that the number of children in schools is also dropping: in SY 2005-2006 only 84 percent of children aged 6-11 was able to attend elementary school, a sharp decrease from the 90 percent recorded in 2001-2002.
“The declining number of children who are able to go to school reflects their vulnerability to economic difficulties which have been worsening during the last six years of the Arroyo administration,” Ibon said. “Among the country’s basic sectors, the biggest number of poor people is found among the children, with some 14.1 million of them considered poor.”
This school year, the Department of Education (DepEd) estimated an enrolment of 13.24 million in the elementary level. Of this, 12.18 million will go to public schools while 1.06 million will enroll in private schools. For the secondary level, there is a projected 6.43 million enrollees with 5.13 million set to go to public high schools, while 1.3 million will be taken in by private secondary high schools, Lapus said.
Militant youth activists also protested the planned redeployment of military troops in Metro Manila schools for the class opening.
Palatino and Crisostomo said the military deployment in schools is related to the implementation of the Human Security Act (HSA) of 2007 which is “intended to target progressive student organizations, student councils and publications that are critical of the Arroyo administration.”
He cited cases where youth activists have been victimized allegedly by the military like the murder of two Kabataan poll watchers in Camarines Norte in May; the brutal killings of known Bicol student leaders Cris Hugo, Farly Alcantara and Reimon Guran; and abduction of UP student activists Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.
“We fear that this could lead to an escalation of human rights violations against known student activists and even members of student councils and campus publications,” Palatino said, noting that this might also have an impact on the psychological well-being of students.
“Military troops have no place in academic institutions. Schools are not war zones. We will not allow this government to transform our schools into military camps.
The militant youth organizations warned that the military will get more than the eggs and mud Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon got when he went to UP.
Meanwhile, Palatino called on elected district representatives and soon-to-be senators to make good their promises and prove their claims during the campaign period that they are for making education accessible to the youth by prioritizing the resolution of the “tuition hike crisis” when Congress opens.
The youth groups called on lawmakers “to join the students’ clamor for an end to unabated tuition and other fee increases and to conduct an immediate investigation on the suspension of the tuition cap.”
Kabataan Party and other student groups are gearing up for huge protests on June 4 and 13 to mark the beginning of classes at the basic and tertiary levels, respectively.(Bulatlat.com)