BAGUIO CITY – Several groups here, led by students and teachers, aired education woes during a demonstration marking the formal resumption of classes on June 5.
The groups decried government’s “abandonment” of public education, saying no significant improvement in school facilities and services was ensured by the Department of Education (DepEd) this school year and instead, ceded their job to private schools.
“Dep-Ed has never learned its lessons. Same yearly problems of lack of classrooms, teaching facilities, and teachers remain as if the past years are just yesterday,” said Luke Bagangan, secretary general of Anakbayan Cordillera.
State of neglect
Speaking at the protest, Bagangan cited the lack of public senior high schools (SHS) in the city as manifestation of the government’s neglect of the education sector.
Data from DepEd revealed that only eight public schools or roughly one out of six high schools will offer SHS.
“From eight public SHS last year, the number remains eight this academic year. DepEd must explain why the other 14 high schools refuse to offer SHS tracks,” said Bagangan.
The group said that students were forced to transfer to private schools because of the incapability of public SHS to absorb students.
Based on DepEd figures, Anakbayan estimated that around 17 out of 20 SHS students in Baguio studied in private schools last year.
The group explained the data to be anticipated since roughly five out of every six SHS in the city are privately-owned.
Bagangan cited the enrollment in Baguio City National High School, saying the enrollment period was cut short as slots in various tracks in grade 11 and 12 were filled to the rim.
“Baguio City National High School is the premier SHS in the region. How can you expect other public senior high schools to provide decent services if even city high (BCNHS) can’t”, said the youth leader.
The group cited such problems in public schools force students to enroll in private institutions despite higher costs.
Reports obtained by Anakbayan revealed that several students in private schools were eyeing to transfer to public schools as many fail to benefit from the government scholarship grants through the voucher system.
“Students want to transfer to public schools if given a chance. Given the conditions that public schools have no ability to absorb them, it is either they remain in private schools or totally stop schooling,” said Bagangan.
Teachers sacrifice again
Meanwhile, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), is worried of increases in class sizes in public school senior high schools. In a statement, the group cited that the target class size of 40 was bloated to 50 in BCNHS SHS to accommodate more students.
“While we welcome the decision of BCNHS administration to absorb more students, we fear that the adjustment of class size, without an increase in number of teachers and the necessary improvement of facilities, will make learning and teaching difficult and stressful for students and teachers,” said Thomas Milanes, spokesperson of the ACT Cordillera.
“The bottomline here is the fact that the government failed to improve public schools amid the implementation of the K to 12 program. Instead of spending more for public education sector, the government merely passes their job of providing education (services) to private schools and in addition, financing them (the private schools) through the voucher system,” said Milanes.
Milanes also complained of lack of materials for K12. Modules for the primary grades are complete only for Grade IV. Grade 7 books are still incomplete.
Private school teachers and employees also joined the protest as more layoffs are expected among private universities and college since no freshmen and sophomores are admitted yet in most schools.
In the first year of K12 implementation, data gathered by ACT showed that around 300 private school teachers in Metro Baguio alone were affected in different forms. Some were retrenched, others were forcedly retired, and others were absorbed in Senior High School but losing tenure and with lowered salaries but with more workloads.
Regrets on the stalled peace talks
The protesting groups expressed regret over the cancellation of peace talks between the Government of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
“Peace talk efforts have already gone a long way with the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-economic Reforms including those for education is already on the table”, Milanes said.
They called for the lifting of martial law in Mindanao saying a military solution to the long-standing issues of the Moro people, which created terrorist groups like the Maute in Marawi, will be futile and just worsen the problem. The Marawi crisis was the trigger in the Martial Law declaration and the withdrawal of the GRP Panel from the fifth round of talks in Netherlands from May 26 to June 2.