MANILA, Philippines – Rose (not her real name), a public school teacher in Albay, is looking for ways to spruce up her classroom days before the opening of classes.
According to Rose, who has been working for the Department of Education (DepEd) since 2021, her homeroom looked more worn down compared to other rooms in the campus.
It only had makeshift wooden tables and benches made of coco lumber, which were barely enough for a class of 40 students. They had to borrow plastic chairs from other departments in the school so that everyone could take a seat.
The room’s wooden ceiling also badly needs a repair as it is starting to deteriorate and could be unsafe for those below.
Staying there has taken a hit on the confidence of her previous advisory class, where most of the students were classified as “slow learners.”
“Feeling po nila parang binababa sila [kahit] hindi naman po ganun iyong iniisip ng school head namin noong nilagay sila doon sa classroom,” she told Rappler. (They feel as if they are being looked down at even though that was not our school head’s intention when they were placed in that classroom.)
“They wondered: ‘Why does our classroom look like this? Is it because we are non-readers or slow-learners?’” she said in a mix of English and Filipino. “I felt bad for them.”
Meanwhile, a teacher from the Tarlac province was assigned to a different classroom this school year– one he describes as “raw.” The classroom has a missing light bulb and lacks chairs and tables.
Ten months into his teaching job, Juan (not his real name) has noticed how an unpleasant room like this one could affect the performance of even his best students.
“Kung titingnan mo naman ‘yung room, hindi siya ganoon ka-presentable…Kahit ‘yung bata, very active ‘yan, magaling na ‘yan talaga, nawawalan sila ng gana kasi ganoon ‘yung classroom, ganoon ‘yung nakikita nila sa paligid nila,” Juan said in an interview with Rappler. (If you look at the room, it’s not too presentable. Even if the child is very active and is very good, they lose interest because that’s what they see in their classroom and their environment.)
Hoping to improve the experience for their advisory class this year, Rose and Juan are just two of the many teachers who joined the #PisoGcashChallenge, which encouraged social media users to donate even as little as one peso to help with classroom renovation efforts. As of this writing, the hashtag has over 36,000 posts on Facebook.
After the Brigada Eskwela program in her school, Rose posted about her classroom’s situation on Facebook using the hashtag and urged her followers to donate what they could for the sake of her students.
“Bilang pangalawang magulang nila, hindi rin namin maatim ng [mga guro] na pag-tiisin ang mga bata kung may paraan naman at may mga mabubuting pusong laging handang tumulong,” she says in her post. (As their second parents, we feel bad seeing our students struggle knowing that there’s a solution and there are kind-hearted people who are always ready to help.)
Rose collected over P300 from her Facebook friends as of Monday, August 21. The money will be used to repair the existing tables and benches in her classroom.
The school has requested for new tables and chairs to be made for Rose’s class, although she was told that these might take a while to arrive.
Juan, on the other hand, received over P497 after posting about the challenge on social media. He used both the donations and some of his personal funds to buy cleaning supplies.
Brigada Eskwela is a annual six-day event that encourages students, teachers, organizations, and private individuals to help in the conduct of clean-ups, minor to medium repairs, and maintenance work in public schools.
According to the 2023 Brigada Eskwela Implementing Guidelines released by the DepEd, school heads, teachers, and other school personnel are “strictly prohibited from soliciting or collecting any form of contribution.”
Unfortunately, with barely any monetary or in-kind donations from students and parents during the program, Rose decided to ask netizens for help “just as a civilian with an initiative.”
On the contrary, Juan was able to receive a small amount of cash donations and cleaning materials from volunteers during the Brigada Eskwela, but he still took his chances at the #PisoGcashChallenge after seeing it on his social media feed as most of the money that went to the renovation of his classroom were still from his own pocket.
What about the budget from the government? The education sector, considered as one of the “priority sectors” of the 2023 national budget, received an allocation of P924.7 billion.
DepEd also has a yearly budget called the Basic Education Facilities Fund (BEFF), which covers the “improvement and maintenance of school facilities.”
The 2023 Brigada Eskwela Implementing Guidelines states that every year, the Schools Division Offices (SDOs) prepare a Comprehensive School Facilities Development Plan. All the schools within their area are listed and ranked according to priority, which is based on a needs analysis and a five-year development plan.
Each school will then be assessed by a division engineer who will create a program for construction, repair, or rehabilitation. Funding for such renovations, according to DepEd, may be sourced from the BEFF, the local government unit’s Special Education Fund, or other sources defined by the division superintendent.
Both Rose and Juan were not aware of any recent instance when their school was inspected by a division engineer, but the two public school teachers have urged authorities for greater funding for classroom repairs and its timely release.
Making ends meet
Despite the state of their classrooms, Rose and Juan are determined to make this school year a great one for their students, even if it involves seeking the help of netizens or using their own money.
But Rose admits that even if she wanted to pitch in for repairs, her salary as a teacher is not enough to cover the costs.
“Naiinggit sila doon sa ibang section kasi ang ganda naman ang classroom nila. Ako gusto ko rin po iyon para sa kanila, but then kulang po yung budget po bilang adviser nila,” she said. (They envy the other sections because their classroom looks beautiful. I want that for them, too, but I don’t have enough budget as their adviser.)
A Public School Teacher I receives a monthly salary of only P27,000, in compliance with the fourth tranche of the Salary Standardization Law of 2019. Several bills were filed proposing to increase the basic salary of teachers, but all of these remain pending at the committee level in Congress as of June 2023.
Meanwhile, days before the resumption of classes on August 29, several teachers across the Philippines still struggle with the lack of classrooms.
DepEd reported on August 23 that the country was short of 159,000 classrooms this coming school year, which is worse than last year’s shortage of 91,000 classrooms.
This is despite the fact that the DepEd has over P150 million in confidential funds for 2023, and is set to receive the same amount in 2024.
What can the educators do for their students in the meantime? Many teachers, such as those who joined the #PisoGcashChallenge, are exhausting all means to make sure their students have a conducive learning environment.
After all, for Rose and Juan, a good classroom does wonders to the academic performance of their learners.
“The environment that students see, if they’re presentable, calm, and conducive, will really help motivate them to work harder,” Juan said in a mix of English and Filipino. –Rappler.com