Teachers are very disappointed with DepED; they say its officials have focused more on hiding the problems under conjured illusions to make it seem everything is well in public schools, instead of addressing the problems head on.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – On the opening of classes, public school teachers stormed Gate 7 of Malacañang palace to press President Benigno S. Aquino III for a salary increase.
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) declared June 2 as the nationally coordinated protest action of public school teachers calling for an increase of their basic salary from P18,549 to P25,000 ($423.11 to $570.27) per month and P15,000 from P9,000 ($205.30 to $342.16) per month for the non-teaching personnel. The proposed hikes in salaries are stipulated in House Bill 245 authored by ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio in the House of Representatives.
Louie Zabala, president of the Manila Public School Teachers’ Association (MPTSA), said they were violently dispersed by policemen stationed at the Gate 7. Scores were hurt.
The teachers’ group warned of mass leave if there would be no allocation for the salary upgrade of teachers and non-teaching personnel in the 2015 national budget.
The groups held a program at the Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge. They were joined by members of progressive youth groups such as Anakbayan and League of Filipino Students.
Protest actions were also held by teachers under ACT in Pangasinan, Cavite, Masbate, Nueva Vizcaya, Iloilo, Negros, Cebu and Davao City.
‘Nothing has changed’
Benjie Valbuena, ACT national president, said nothing has changed in the country’s education system. He said the teachers and students are encountering the same problems.
“Shortages of books, chairs, classrooms, facilities and teachers are evident everywhere in the country. The Department of Education’s (DepEd) gimmicks and cover-ups cannot hide the truth. These problems are confirmed by the reports forwarded to us by our different regional formations,” Valbuena said.
There are 21 million students in elementary and high school students for academic year 2014-2015.
He said in the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon (Calabarzon), Central Luzon, Camarines Sur, Bacolod and Bukidnon, class sizes went beyond the maximum class size prescribed by the DepEd.
According to ACT, class sizes range from 60 to 95 students, or double the maximum class size of 50 students per class as prescribed by the DepEd. Students in the provinces are asked to bring their own chairs as schools do not have enough chairs. Books are still scanty. In Cebu, Palawan, Pangasinan, Cavite, Camarines Sur, Laguna and Bukidnon, three to four students share one book.
“Can you imagine how learning takes place in a classroom of 95 students? In Cavite, classrooms are cramped, poorly ventilated and narrow,” Valbuena said.
The international standard of class size is pegged at 35 students per class but in the Philippines, class size can go as large as 95, said Valbuena. “Then the DepEd says that there are no shortages.”
The case is worst for K to 12 learners especially in grades 7 and 9 as there are no books available for students, ACT said.
“Teachers are complaining because they have spend money out of their own pockets to provide for reference materials for their students. The teachers’ salaries are already insufficient for their families yet, they are still forced to spend personal money for the students,” Valbuena added.
Zabala said that at the F. Calderon Integrated School in Manila, teachers have no desk, few chairs, no books for the grade 9 students and no teaching guidelines for teachers. Classrooms are also overcrowded. “These greeted the students and teachers on the first day of classes despite the DepEd’s claim of ‘all systems go’ when class opens,” Zabala said.
Schemes to ‘address’ shortages
To purportedly address the shortages, the DepEd came up with schemes such as home study program, busing system, the expanded Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education (Gastpe) and the attempt to implement the three-day school week.
But Joselyn Martinez, deputy chairwoman of ACT, said the solution to the shortages lies instead at prioritizing education. “If the government really prioritizes the education, it should adhere to the Unesco standard of allocating six percent of the country’s gross domestic product to education.”
DepEd Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo said the busing system was introduced in some areas of the NCR to decongest classrooms. This is already being implemented in Valenzuela City where 140 students from Malinta Elementary School – Pinalagad Annex are being transported daily to Caruhatan West Elementary School in DepEd vans.
“The local school board shoulders fuel expenses for the entire school year,” he said. “Other DepEd divisions are exploring similar arrangements,” Mateo was quoted as saying in an article.
Martinez said some students are under the home study program. They are provided a module as study guide. They will come to school only every Saturday for classes. They will study at home on weekdays. This is already being implemented in schools in Quezon City.
The Gastpe partially finances the transfer enrolment of students from public school to a private school. This is being implemented in high school level. In NCR, grantees receive P10,000 ($227.80) while grantees in the province receive P6,500 ($148.07) in a year.
ACT says the Gastpe program of the government is a form of privatization of education. “The $227.80 a year subsidy spends only for down payment in private schools, but what about the students’ monthly tuition? This is clearly passing on to others the government’s responsibility of giving free and quality education,” ACT said.
“Data cannot be altered nor hidden by the DepEd officials. We are very much disappointed with them because instead of addressing the problems in providing education, these officials focused on hiding the truth to make the public believe that everything is well in public schools,” Valbuena said.
ACT also criticized the government’s freeze-hiring policy. On March 20, the DepEd released Unnumbered Memorandum on the “Discontinuation of the Hiring of LGU-funded and Kindergarten Volunteer Teachers and Reminder to Hire Only Qualified Local Government Unit-funded and DepEd-subsidized Teachers as of 2012 for 2014-2015.” This prohibits the hiring of new LGU-paid teachers for School Year 2014-2015.
Frieda Canoy, 30, a grade two teacher at the Putatan Elementary School in Muntinlupa City, is affected by this memorandum even if she was hired two years ago, in 2012.
She and 23 other teachers were laid off from work. She said they were informed that their contract would not be renewed two weeks before the memorandum took effect last May 31.
Joselyn Martinez, ACT deputy chairwoman, said they also received reports of layoffs in Bacolod City and other divisions. “Although the memo is intended for new applicants, DepEd officials are implementing this also on currently hired LGU-paid teachers. It blatant disregards their years of service and sacrifice with meager pay,” Martinez said.
The freeze hiring of teachers is seen also as “part of DepEd’s and Aquino’s plan to create an artificial condition where there is seemingly no shortage of teachers in public schools,” Martinez said.
“Under this nonsense plan, teaching loads like class advisory, coaching and other administrative work in the computation of teaching load are excluded. Aside from this, the average class size is still far from ideal (at 45 students in the elementary level and at 50 students in the secondary level).
Another scheme to hide the shortage is the division of classrooms into two. With this mechanism, the number of needed teachers, classrooms and other facilities and equipment are reduced,” Martinez said.
“There is no excess of teachers in Muntinlupa. But class size is beyond the ideal of 35 pupils, and we are handling more than that,” Canoy told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
ACT urges for the rehiring of laid off teachers immediately.
Cesar Gratin, president of ACT-Muntinlupa, said their School Division Superintendent Priscilla De Sagun has yet to recommend 24 teachers for rehiring. “The Mayor of Muntinlupa said these LGU-paid teachers are still included in the budget, therefore, the local government can still pay their salaries. But School Division Superintendent De Sagun is still not recommending them. We demand that they be rehired,” Gratil said.
“We call on the DepEd leadership and Aquino himself to be truthful and face the problems of public education head on. Their schemes will not solve the problem at all. What they need to do is simple and basic – add permanent items for teachers, construct additional classrooms and facilities and quit from making cheap gimmickry and rhetoric,” Martinez said.