By Emmanuel Tupas, June 3 2019; Philippine Star
Image Credit to Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — Security preparations are in place to ensure the safety of students during the opening of classes today, the Philippine National Police (PNP) announced over the weekend.
An estimated 22.8 million public school students are expected to troop back to school this year.
“The PNP is ready to protect the students who are returning to school,” PNP spokesman Col. Bernard Banac said yesterday.
Around 120,000 police officers will be deployed nationwide to secure the students. Of the number, about 7,000 will secure schools in Metro Manila, including those located in the University Belt in Manila.
Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, director of the National Capital Region Police Office, said plainclothes officers would be on the lookout for suspected drug dealers, robbers and other criminals such as snatchers and pickpockets who might target students.
Eleazar said schools officials could seek police help in the event of emergencies.
“They have to coordinate with the policemen deployed in the area so we could provide assistance,” he said.
Banac said policemen would also be on the lookout for victims of bullying in schools. But he clarified they can only intervene upon the request of school officials.
He said police could address cases of bullying that occur outside schools, including cyberbullying.
The PNP has reported that 11 cases of cyberbullying were documented in 2018, higher by 22 percent compared to nine incidents in 2017. Two cases have been recorded so far this year.
Banac said intelligence operatives have not received any security threat during the school opening.
He urged the public to remain vigilant and immediately report to authorities sightings of suspicious-looking individuals and objects.
‘Less problems, more learners’
The Department of Education has ordered local DepEd officials to ensure that there will be less problems encountered during the school opening.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones also enjoined DepEd regional and division officials to work together to make sure that more students would be enrolled this school year.
“The department reactivated its annual Oplan Balik Eskwela, with a Public Assistance Command Center in the central, regional and division offices to ensure the readiness and the welfare of our learners,” Briones said.
A slight increase in the number of basic education students is expected this school year based on the updated projection data released by the DepEd.
From the 27.01 million students enrolled last year, around 27.21 million learners are expected to attend public and private schools this year.
Of the projected 27.21 million students, around 22.84 million will be enrolled in some 40,000 public kindergarten, elementary and high schools nationwide.
Around 4.2 million students will be enrolled in private schools and about 158,000 will enroll in basic education programs offered by state and local universities and colleges.
The number of students is expected to increase with late enrollees and those who will enroll in non-formal education programs such as the Alternative Learning System.
Despite the DepEd’s statement that schools are ready for the opening of classes, some groups maintained that old problems remain.
According to the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), they have monitored cases of classroom congestion and lack of facilities in various schools nationwide.
“Teachers from 15 regions report the same old problems plaguing their schools,” said ACT secretary general Raymond Basilio.
“In Regions I and VI, students and teachers are cramped in makeshift classrooms made of galvanized iron sheets. In Region V, they hold classes in nipa huts,” he said.
Basilio said students struck by Super Typhoon Yolanda in Region VIII continue to hold classes in plywood classrooms, which expose students and teachers to heat and rains.
In Metro Manila, the ACT cited congestion issues at the Bagong Silangan High School where classrooms have to be divided to accommodate students pending completion of a new building.
Classes at the Acacia Elementary School in Malabon are held in makeshift classrooms, the group said.
The DepEd, however, maintained that such problems are isolated and do not reflect the situation in the majority of public schools.
Education Undersecretary for operations Jesus Mateo earlier noted that congestion is an issue often encountered in schools in urban areas due to lack of space.
Education Undersecretary for finance Annalyn Sevilla said construction of some 66,000 classrooms funded in 2018 is still ongoing.
During a press conference at the DepEd central office last week, Public Works Assistant Secretary Antonio Molano said they have completed over 60 percent of the new classrooms.
Education officials maintained that classroom and teacher backlogs are no longer existent.
Briones said the annual allocation for new facilities and teacher posts are additional requirements needed to improve the quality of education amid the rising population.
Mateo underscored the need to construct new classrooms and hire new teachers to improve the classroom- and teacher-student ratio.
This year, he said the DepEd expects to hire additional 33,000 new teachers, particularly in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
Teacher groups have reiterated their call for the government to address their problems.
The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) called on President Duterte to deliver on his promise to increase the salary of teachers.
“For the longest time, our calls for just compensation and treatment commensurate to our role in society have been neglected by the previous administrations,” TDC chairman Benjo Basas said. – With Janvic Mateo, Edu Punay