POSTSCRIPT / August 14, 2022 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Face-to-face classes kick up a brainstorm

We knew all along that we would go back to face-to-face classes in all schools as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, so why did not the administration of then President Duterte prepare the classrooms?

Some elementary and high school students in Metro Manila return to their classrooms. Photo: ABS-CBN News/ Arra Perez

Even if there is no pandemic, enrolment keeps growing at a predictable rate every year, leaving the government no excuse for a serious classroom shortage rearing its head every year.

Now his daughter, Education Secretary Sara Duterte is hard pressed to cram 27 million primary and secondary public school students in the limited number of classrooms without violating COVID-19 distancing guidelines for face-to-face classes.

Aiming for five-day F2F classes by Nov. 2, the DepEd faces a shortage of some 400,000 rooms nationwide if it sets a limit of 20 students per room for safe physical distancing. Local school officials, however, are allowed to make adjustments based on their peculiar circumstances.

With the Filipino’s known genius for making adjustments in tight situations, we can almost see every enrollee in public schools being squeezed in eventually – and the perennial and measurable classroom shortage largely forgotten until the next enrolment crisis.

We’re talking here only of classrooms. What about the curriculum content, the books some of which are being edited to remove alleged political bias, the fair wages and the training of teachers, etc.?

Whatever classroom solution is eventually adopted will still face other tests when natural calamities such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, widespread flooding, and such dire scenarios send displaced folk seeking shelter in public school buildings. But that’s another story.

An analysis by PhilSTAR.com of DepEd data has shown that public schools in all regions would need more classrooms if they were to limit class size to 20 students to adhere to physical distancing guidelines.

Calabarzon (Region IV-A), which has the second highest number of classrooms in the country at 71,408, would require at least more than twice their number of rooms if class sizes were to be limited to 20, or 78,657 more classrooms.

The National Capital Region (NCR) and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) would also be short of twice their present number of classrooms.

But the analysis showed that setting a maximum class size of 40 – close to the typical pre-pandemic class size in public schools – would eliminate room shortages for all regions except Calabarzon, NCR, and BARMM.

 School crisis spawns various ideas

Hearing parents, guardians and education experts discuss the predictable but still recurring classroom shortages, we join in with our own mental notes.

Sec. 2(2), Art. XIV, of the Constitution, mandates the State to “establish and maintain, a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. Without limiting the natural rights of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for all children of school age.”

That means public elementary education should not only be “COMPULSORY” but must also be “FREE”. Watch those two adjectives that must go together.

Pursuing this mandate, the DepEd issued a policy directive in 2003 that no Filipino child of proper age be refused admission to public schools.

We suggest a little adjustment here. Every community (barangay, town or city of a defined maximum population) must have its own public elementary and high school – where “outsiders” or non-residents will not be enrolled ahead of local students.

Prioritize the construction of those community schools. And where there is no space for a school, rent suitable private structures.

Under this neighborhood approach, all public elementary schools must be within WALKING DISTANCE of students. No one rides to school. This will greatly reduce commuting traffic, especially in urbanized areas. Also, in emergencies, parents/guardians can rush to the children.

For their safety, students will be organized with their neighbors’ children. No student will walk to school or go home alone, but with the same group. That way, hopefully, they will learn to look after one another. Any missing student is immediately noted.

 Try homeschooling your kid?

There are pros and cons when comparing face-to-face classes and remote learning that was hurriedly imposed on us by the pandemic even before we could prepare for it.

There is another option that some parents talk about. It is called home education in the United Kingdom, and homeschooling almost everywhere in the world including the United States and the Philippines.

Many parents tried it for their kids when the pandemic made going to school so scary. The general idea is that parents teach their own children at home under a monitored program accredited by the DepEds of various countries.

It’s legal almost everywhere in the world, except for a handful of countries such as Germany. Usually, you do not need any degree or accreditation to homeschool your child. If you are the parent or guardian, you are deemed qualified to teach.

We don’t know of any official website on homeschooling in the Philippines, although there are individual websites of homeschool providers. For Americans, there is https://hslda.org/legal, which lists all requirements per state, because they do vary.

Can foreign students outside the US enroll? What’s the guarantee that the child’s home education will be credited by the US federal government’s DepEd?

Some parents tell us that you don’t have to be physically in the US to homeschool your child under US accreditation. You can enroll your child with a Philippine homeschool provider that has partnered up with a US homeschool provider. Qualification for credit depends on the state.

We suggest you look up this option online. It cannot be fully discussed in our limited space.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 14, 2022)

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