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Sunday, May 31, 2009

School's Back!

Tomorrow, some 18 million Filipino kids will troop to their schools as classes start for school year 2009-2010. I am just not sure how many of these kids will find a classroom to stay in, a chair to sit on and a desk to write on. I also wonder if all 18 million kids will have a book for each of their subjects and if these books even contain accurate and up to date information.

Of the 18 million boys and girls, 13.1 million are elementary students and 5.6 million are high school students. If you notice, there is a large disparity between the number of kids in elementary and high school. A 2008 study showed that of every 100 children who enter Grade 1, only 65 reach Grade 6, only 43 finish high school and only 2 enter college. (Manila Times)

In the meantime, the perennial problem of lack of classrooms continue to haunt the country. In spite government efforts, the current classroom to student ratio is 1:50. Daunting if you ask me because when I was in school, there were only 35 of us in a classroom. Even then, our teachers were complaining that there were too many of us in one class. I expect to see another photo of kids having classes under a tree on the front pages of newspapers the day after tomorrow.

Don't expect this problem to go away in the near future. The country has one of the highest birth rate in the region at 2.3 percent or some 1 million or more babies born in a year. Give or take seven years and these babies will also demand for classrooms.

The lack of teachers is still another problem that's been with the system for a long time. Some teachers are tasked to teach several grade levels at a time. With the low pay they receive, some leave the country to work as house helpers in other countries. Aside from the small number, the quality of some mentors are also questionable.

The children who will go back to school tomorrow have other problems to face. One is the high price of school supplies. Notebooks, school pads, pencils and ballpens have become more expensive in recent years. I looked around for school bags last Friday and I found out that the average price of each is 400 pesos. Parents with more than two children going back to school tomorrow will need at least a thousand pesos for school bags alone.

Then there's also the need to buy shoes and school uniforms. Even if the education department kept repeating that school uniforms are not compulsory. I think it would be more expensive in the long run to buy clothes for kids to wear to school. What parents would want their child to go to school in worn out or tattered clothes?

The most recent concern of course is the spread of the A H1N1 influenza virus. The weather bureau expects a rainy first week of classes. It would be damp and cold, a great environment for viruses to flourish. Putting 50 kids in one classroom does not help of course. There's also the lack of lavatories and toilets in most schools. This may not be a problem in private schools or even government schools in the city, but those in the far flung areas of the country may be in need of these facilities.

Government promises to eliminate most, if not all the usual school opening kinks in the future. Unless it gives education the attention and action it deserves, these problems will remain for future generation of school children.

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