As new school year opens, teachers ask: What about us?
MANILA, Philippines — As more than 22 million public school students nationwide return to classrooms on Aug. 29 for the start of another school year, a teachers’ group again reminded the government of its promise to improve their welfare, saying that any educational reform would be pointless if they remain neglected and unmotivated.
Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC) chair Benjo Basas told the Inquirer on Monday that despite being on break for just 45 days instead of the two months they were entitled to under the law, they were all set to welcome back their students.
“The teachers are always ready even if we didn’t really get a proper rest because we didn’t complete the supposedly 60 days [of summer break],” he said.
But according to the Civil Service Commission’s Omnibus Rules on Leave, teachers are entitled to a 70-day summer break, including a 14-day Christmas vacation.
“DepEd (Department of Education) must first recognize that the vacation given to teachers is really insufficient,” Basas said, adding that in their consultations with other teachers, a frequent complaint was the low priority being given to their welfare.
“Everyone talks about education [and] children’s welfare and rights which is good, but the problem is, the consideration of issues regarding teachers’ welfare is not given paramount consideration as well,” he pointed out.
In a Senate hearing on Aug. 23, TDC vice chair Olivia de Guzman said that teachers often end up using their own money to repair and prepare their classrooms during the DepEd’s annual “Brigada Eskwela” campaign or school maintenance program.
“It is inevitable that the government will not be able to provide the basic [needs] like repainting [materials],” she told Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian who had asked about their group’s immediate needs for the new school year.
Forgotten campaign vow
Basas said that some teachers who solicit money from private individuals to buy paint or equipment, like electric fans for their classrooms, do so “out of necessity,” especially if there was no school budget for such things. But he stressed that this was not their obligation but the state’s.
Basas also added that although it has been more than a year after Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte promised to relieve them of administrative and other ancillary duties, “the sentiment of teachers is that it seems that their workload [has even increased].”
According to him, their sector was hoping to use the opening of another school year as an avenue to challenge the government to fulfill its promise to increase their wages.
“Our President promised during the election to raise teachers’ salaries … but now that he is president, the issue is no longer being talked about,” Basas said.
He stressed that no matter the changes to be implemented in the curriculum, the classrooms to be built or the technology to be introduced in learning, all of these would be wasted if the government would not pay attention to their welfare.
“If the teachers are still poor, very lowly paid [and] unmotivated, all education reforms will be useless,” Basas said.
For this school year, DepEd is expecting around 28.8 million public and private school students but based on its data a day before the opening of classes on Aug. 29, only 22.68 million have so far enrolled.
In Cagayan, classes will not reopen just yet in both public and private schools due to rain-induced floods caused by Typhoon “Goring” (international name: Saola) in the northern part of the province. (See related story on this page.)
Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said that heavy rains had raised the level of the Cagayan River and its tributaries, causing landslides and floods in low-lying areas.
Damage was also reported in some classrooms, including in the nearby Isabela province, forcing teachers to carry out repairs.
“We’re repairing leaking roofs and other school facilities in time for the opening of classes,” Marites Saldo, Guinatan Elementary School principal in Ilagan City, Isabela, told the Inquirer.
In Ilocos Sur province, some schools in the capital city of Vigan would serve as evacuation centers should barangay facilities not be able to accommodate families displaced by floods, according to the city schools division. But there was no announcement on whether classes would reopen as scheduled on Tuesday.
In Ilocos Norte, Cherry Joy Garma, information officer for the Schools Division of Laoag City, said the school opening would push through if no typhoon signal would be hoisted over the province.