Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016: A School Opening Like No Other

2016: A School Opening Like No Other (Day 32)

by Rey Laguda

(This is the  32nd day of 50-day journey of DepEd Undersecretary Rey Laguda as being serialized here with his permission, culled from his Facebook account - Blogger/owner)

News headlines can often dictate national discourse and consequently, perception. If we look carefully, there are seasonal topics that come out year on year. One such example is school opening. School Opening is always associated with problems - lack of classrooms, congested classrooms, lack of furniture, etc. Even if these do not represent the entire roster of 47,000 public schools, it doesn't matter to the undiscerning reader who allows himself/herself to be influenced by anecdotal experience and news angles.

In the last years, we have been constantly working with media partners to demonstrate nuances. Congestion is an issue in schools where first and foremost, there is an issue of congestion of households. Congestion in schools may be just a symptom of more fundamental problems of development approach or the lack of it. It is an issue in urban areas and not necessarily in rural areas and the countryside. It doesn't represent all school situations. In many communities, school opening is defined more by the gathering of community members to give life to the adage, "It takes a village to raise a child." For thousands of new teachers, school opening is a milestone of years of study and constant pursuit of a dream to teach. It is about Day 1, the start of a career and life path. For around 2 million of 5-year olds, it is the birth of a new experience of going to school.

On June 13, 2016, school opening is not like any ordinary opening of a new school year. This year is different and historic. For the first time in our nation's history, more than a million students will be entering grade 11. It is the start of Senior High School (SHS).

While the tendency and default view is to look for what is missing and unfinished, I invite and urge everyone to take a more positive view. For June 13 does not only represent the beginning. It also represents the last six years of work. June 13 is a culmination of decades of advocacy for a 12-year basic education cycle. More than just adding two years, it is a combination of reforms in curriculum and how the Department of Education manages the whole education system.

It is about six years of curriculum development and rollout. It is about three years of crafting an appropriate law. It is about critical and unprecedented collaboration between and among three education agencies - DepEd, TESDA and CHEd. Compilations of local and international research and evidence, local helped define policies. Multiple consultations with thousands of stakeholders were held in all divisions all over the Philippines. Thousands of DepEd personnel were involved in three years of forecasting, planning, site selection, and coordination. Students are being asked their preferences for the first time. Students are provided a choice. Community-based advocacy and education is continuing. An unprecedented 11,000 Senior High Schools have been opened by DepEd, State Universities, Local Universities and private schools.

It is about the support of stakeholders from the local government units, academe, private sector, government agencies (DOLE, NEDA, DILG, DBM, COA, CSC). It is about the strong leadership support of the President and the Cabinet. It is about the support of the 15th and the 16th Congress (House and Senate) to craft the necessary laws and provide the appropriate budget and oversight.

Budgets were provided for classroom construction for SHS as early as 2014 until 2016. More than P112 billion has been provided for 55,818 classrooms (with complete sets of furniture), 5,018 laboratories and workshops, and 36,150 teacher items. An additional P31 billion is provided in 2016 for computer/math and science/tech-voc and livelihood equipment, teacher training, vouchers and additional school budgets.

While there may be classrooms that are still being finished as we speak, it is important to note that there has been a radical shift in government construction of classrooms. For the longest time, government has been building for requirements that were much needed years ago. In the last two years, we have been constructing for requirements needed in the future. So any unfinished construction by June, is technically going to be delayed for a few months. I would say that's better than running after a backlog of several years. Let me also note that mass construction of classrooms in thousands of sites under a public procurement regime, is no easy feat.

Grade 11 public school teachers went through at least two weeks of training for both common and specialized topics.

Let us override the negativity with hope, determination and collective efforts to move the country forward. Instead of wishing for failure, let us work together for a successful rollout. Birth pains will be felt because large scale reform doesn't happen overnight. Let us look at reforms along a time continuum rather than from a snapshot view.

Let us look at opening as a celebration of a historic milestone. For if we are to expect our children to be future leaders, we should also demonstrate a positive kind of leadership that welcomes students with great hope, enthusiasm and promise despite the challenges ahead. Let our actions and our perspectives communicate clearly that we shall overcome and triumph.



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