Friday, June 02, 2006

On classroom shortage

This story was taken from

A real shortage
First posted 00:43am (Mla time) June 01, 2006

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has demonstrated how a problem can be made to vanish at the snap of a finger or, more precisely, by snapping at a Cabinet member. At the Cabinet meeting last Tuesday, acting Education Secretary Fe Hidalgo reported that her department was facing a shortage of 6,832 classrooms. Nothing unusual there, since the problem has been with us since anyone cares to remember. But with the media around to record the proceedings, that was apparently the last thing the President wanted to hear. So she asked Hidalgo how she arrived at that number, and she was told it was computed on the basis of 45 students to a classroom.

Without bothering to hide her anger, the President reminded Hidalgo that they had earlier agreed to change the ratio to 100 to 1 to reflect the "two-shift policy," where classrooms are used by one class in the morning and by another class in the afternoon. If this standard is used, she demanded, what would be the shortage now? Hidalgo's reply was: "We only have a few shortages now."

That didn't mollify the President who then proceeded to terminate the meeting, after sending Hidalgo away to check her figures. Later in the day, Hidalgo would tell reporters that she had made a mistake in her presentation and that there was no classroom shortage after all.

Thus, in a matter of a few hours, a classroom shortage that was counted by the thousands suddenly shrunk to a few and then vanished completely. But what about that unlucky number that made the President mad? Hidalgo said she got her figures mixed up: the 6,832 classrooms she mentioned did not represent the shortage but the total number planned for construction this year.

Which leads us to ask: If there is no shortage, why is the government building almost 7,000 classrooms this year? And why has the government set aside P2 billion for the purpose?

If the President really wants to address this perennial problem that affects hundreds of thousands of young Filipino students in both elementary and high school, she should look at it squarely without worrying about what the public might make of it. The fact is that Hidalgo had her figures right on the nose. The number she quoted -- 6,832 -- was the projected classroom shortage in public elementary and high schools for school year 2006-2007. And that number will not go down under a "two-shift policy" simply because it is already based on a ratio of 100 students to 1 classroom, which is what the policy prescribes.

And if the President wants to know another unpleasant truth, that policy or strategy was dictated precisely by the shortage in classrooms. Ideally, each class should consist of not more than 45 students using one classroom morning and afternoon. A "two-shift policy" reduces the class hours and therefore the learning time, former Education Undersecretary Miguel Luz has pointed out. And that is one reason Filipino students are faring poorly compared to many of our neighbors.

In the "ideal" situation where 45 students have one classroom for their use throughout the day, the classroom shortage rises to 74,115, according to projections made by the Department of Education. A problem of this magnitude will not go away just because the President threw a temper tantrum or the Department of Education wants to placate her by massaging its own estimates. Regardless of how the President feels, the Filipino people deserve to be told the truth with regard to the state of Philippine education. They will know the truth as soon as classes open anyway. And they have had enough of "creative" solutions or ationalizations such as Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila's claim that there is no job shortage, just picky job-seekers who want to start at the top.

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