Solons reveal severe backlog of public high schools

ACT Teachers Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro scored the Department of Education (DepEd) for failing to build more schools, especially for junior and senior high schools, thus restricting access to free education for more Filipino youth.

“We usually talk of backlogs in classrooms, and DepEd certainly has a lot of those. But it’s about time for it to also face the severe backlog in schools, especially high schools. With 36,492 public elementary schools and only 7,677 junior high schools, children in four or five elementary schools will have to cram themselves into a single high school when they graduate,” Castro pointed. “Clearly, DepEd has to take seriously its school building program and create more high schools.”

Castro added that while almost all barangays in the country have at least 1 elementary school, high schools are found mainly in urban areas and population centers only, at a ratio of 1 high school for every 4 to 5 barangays.

The school shortage is more pronounced in senior high school (SHS), which DepEd started implementing last year, said Tinio. Prior to the addition of Grades 11 and 12, government did not launch a massive school building program to accommodate Grade 10 completers from public junior high schools, then expected to be from 1.2 million to 1.6 million, he explained.

Citing DepEd reports, Tinio also revealed that the agency is lagging behind on its targets for classroom building, meeting only 51.59% of its target units for 2014 until 2016. Of this number, it completed only 25,498 classrooms for senior high school, or a little more than half of its target 49,294 units.

In contrast to its lackluster performance in school building, DepEd is expanding private provision of SHS, relying heavily on public-private partnership and granting permits to more private schools. Per DepEd’s list, a total of 5,965 public schools will serve senior high students this school year, an increase of only 25 from 2016. On the other hand, private schools offering SHS will be 4,729.

“The number of private SHSs will quickly catch up to public SHSs, and we might see a one-is-to-one or a higher ratio between public and private SHSs in favor of the latter,” Castro lamented. “So outside of congested public high schools, our youth have nowhere to go except private schools. For those who come from poor families, they usually become dropouts.”

If government refuses to build and maintain more public schools, especially junior and senior high schools, the number of out of school youth and those who fail to finish high school will continue to rise, the solons said. Per DepEd data, 3.4 million high school-age youth in School Year 2015-2016 were not enrolled in first to fourth year. High school completion also declined in five years, with 1.9 million, or more than a fourth of the enrollees, dropping out in the middle of the school year.

“The only way to bring more students to school is for government to reverse its habit of underfunding public education, which will enable it to build and maintain more public schools, especially junior and senior high schools,” the solons ended. “Otherwise, government will bar more and more Filipino youth, majority of whom are from poor families, from free and complete basic education.” ###