By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO and MARC RECHELLE BUNTAG
MANILA – As a public school teacher for eight years, Edgielyn Ramos has just finished the last bit of work for the previous school year. However, Ramos is now rushing to prepare for the resumption of face-to-face classes.
At best, Ramos who teaches social science is not yet ready. “Personally, we are not okay. I can see the same for my colleagues, who are scared as we are obliged to implement a full face-to-face this November.”
Last July 5, Vice President Sara Duterte, who also sits as education secretary, announced that the government will push for the full implementation of face-to-face classes by November 2022. This is based on her department memorandum dated July 11, 2022.
However, an online survey conducted by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) of more than 1,000 public school teachers from Aug. 8 to 17 showed that 67 percent of respondents said that their schools have an inadequate number of classrooms. In addition, about one-third of the respondents indicated that it is unclear to them how face-to-face classes will be accommodated and another 30 percent had no idea how it will be implemented.
The same survey revealed that public school teachers had “no rest from the past school year” and that school opening duties were not enough. The respondents said that they had incurred out-of-pocket expenses to fill in the government deficiencies.
“We are both rushing (to reopen schools) and scared as COVID-19 cases are rising. That is how I can explain and visualize what is happening to us. We are required to go to school and prepare the modules,” Ramos said.
Burden on teachers
Ramos explained that there are only 56 teachers in the school that hope to cater to at least 3,200 students. “That is how heavy the burden is. We are left with no choice. We are hoping to have two more weeks to prepare for the orientation but that is no longer possible.”
Their school in Montalban, Rizal, a province just outside of the country’s capital, only has three four-story buildings. These are expected to host more than 3,000 students, with some sections having at least 100 students each. Teachers will have to schedule them in accordance with government guidelines to ensure physical distancing during the resumption of face-to-face classes.
Ramos said they lack both teachers and classrooms to deal with this.
No teacher, too, has been hired since 2016 to augment the long-running problems of lack of teachers, she told Bulatlat. This has since compelled their school to get contractual teachers employed by their local government.
She also decried having no allowance for the online classes. Ramos was also among those who received the controversial laptops that were recently reported as overpriced by the Commission on Audit (COA).
Based on the COA report, the high-priced laptops were equipped with low-performing features. The contract amounted to P2.4 billion ($42.9 million) which will supposedly benefit 35,983 public school teachers.
“With a budget that big, why did they have to buy that?” Ramos said, adding that her laptop, which is equipped by a high-performing processor, cost only P38,000 ($680).
For her part, public school teacher Rosalie De Guzman who has been teaching for 20 years told Bulatlat in a phone interview that she also received a laptop. “I am not a techie person but I know how to differentiate a fast-performing laptop from a slow one.”
In a statement, ACT said government data showed that the Department of Education (DepEd) only managed to construct a third of the target classroom construction for 2021 (i.e., 31,907 out of 108,436).
On top of inadequacy, usable classrooms were further reduced with the DepEd’s still pending repair of those damaged by typhoons in the last two years.
Numerous classrooms in Central Visayas, for one, have yet to be repaired, following the damage brought by typhoon Odette in December 2021 and the floodings in recent months. Among these include:
Mabolo National High School, Cebu City – 20 damaged classrooms
Labangon Elementary School, Cebu City – 20 damaged classrooms
Camp Lapu-lapu Elementary School, Apas, Cebu City- 18 damaged classrooms
Zapatera Elementary School, Sikatuna, Cebu City – entire 4th Building is unusable
Zapatera National High School, Cebu City – no classroom available for the Senior High School classes
Abellana National High School, Cebu City – 13 damaged classrooms
Same reports have been received by ACT in the public schools located in Cebu City, Lapu-lapu City and Mandaue City.
“The situation of our schools now is really wretched. State neglect, especially in the past two years under the pandemic, is very palpable. Up to this date, many schools cannot finalize their class plans mainly due to classroom shortage – how many of the enrolled students can be accommodated in face-to-face classes or how many days will classes meet face-to-face,” ACT Chairperson Vladimer Quetua said.
Given the delayed distribution of their P5,000 ($90) cash allowance, ACT said that teachers have been using their own money to make classrooms conducive for learning. This cash allowance is the supposed P25 daily allowance of teachers for the rest of the school year. This, ACT said, is not enough as apart from the chalk and class records that they need to purchase, “teachers are forced to get a loan to buy laptops, printers, projectors because their profession demands so.”
“DepEd wants a 21st-century learning but the support it is giving to teachers is still pegged from the old days,” ACT stressed.
Difficulties in bringing children back to school
De Guzman knows the difficulties that children faced during the distance learning, with her own children having a hard time studying online. As a teacher, she made sure that her classes were “light” and that students will enjoy the learning process.
Both Ramos and De Guzman said that it was difficult to engage students during the distance learning mode. Some opted not to enroll due to difficulties of self-paced learning modalities.
During online sessions, Ramos felt that she was talking to no one, with most of her students not being able to open their cameras due to connectivity issues. De Guzman, on the other hand, said they visited their students in their homes to assess their situation.
“How are you going to motivate them? There are even students who would open their camera while looking after a baby. There are some who will not attend online classes but will submit their respective outputs. One would really have to extend their consideration to students no matter the modality,” said Ramos.
Rose Bihag, a mother of two, said that they are looking forward to sending their children back to school after nearly three years of distance and blended learning. She is, however, wary of their safety.
“Are there enough preparations on the part of DepEd to ensure that the virus will not spread? If our children get COVID-19, dengue, and other illnesses, we do not have sufficient budget for hospital expenses or even medicines,” Bihag, who is also the spokesperson of women’s group Gabriela, said.
In a statement, the women’s group reiterated that their lives have long been difficult – with the increasing prices of basic goods and the low salaries they are receiving. On most days, Bihag said, they do not know where to get money to send our children to school.
This condition worsened during the pandemic, with the government turning a blind eye to pleas of students to be provided with financial support, Gabriela said.
ACT, on the other hand, said that the least that the education department can do for now is to “be honest about the situation and own up to the deficiencies.”
“If they continue to insist that everything is fine but would later turn out otherwise, the burden and blame would definitely fall on teachers,” ACT said.
Continue to serve young Filipinos
Despite the challenges, Ramos remains resolute in her profession as a teacher. “It may sound like a cliche but teaching is really my passion. No one will get rich from teaching. But no matter how tough it may seem, I will never quit because I love (my job).”
But for her sacrifices to be worth it, Ramos said that the government should also heed their concerns and welfare. “Please listen to us because we are the ones on the ground,” she said, adding that teachers should be engaged rather than be simply told what to do. (DAA)