Did you know classrooms in the Philippines are the most crowded in Asia?

THE DEPARTMENT of Education (DepEd) reported recently there are already 21,344,915 enrollees in basic education for the combined public and private schools for School Year 2020-2021 at the end of enrollment period. This represents 76% of last year’s enrollment. For the public schools, the enrollment is 20,147,020, representing 88% of SY 2019-2020 enrollment. The DepEd postponed face-to-face classes until a vaccine against COVID-19 becomes available. The agency has prepared learning programs and modules that will be used online or delivered to students starting August. The enrollment numbers for School Year 2020-2021 are encouraging because, despite the challenges posed by the economic impact of COVID-19, a clear majority of parents have decided that the education of their children must continue.

Education is the foundation of our nation. As enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, the “State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such an education accessible to all”. Of the estimated 68 million Filipino aged 10 years of old and over in 2008, 95.6 percent are basically literate while the functional literacy rate is at 86.4 percent. The high literacy rate in the country was achieved through the campaign of the government, particularly DepEd, to bring more school-age children to school. However, it is not enough to just bring in students to school. We must ensure that learning actually happens once they are in school.  However, if possible the national government must take advantage while face-to-face classes are suspended by constructing more school buildings to anticipate the surge of students once this pandemic is over.

Class size is one factor to consider when evaluating a school’s effectiveness. Education researchers have found that class size reduction in the early grade helps students achieve because there is a greater opportunity for individual interaction between student and teacher in a small class. Based on a large number of studies, smaller classes have witnessed positive and sometimes enduring effects on student achievement, especially for ethnic minority students and students from socioeconomic status groups.

Unfortunately, limited resources resulted in a worsening shortage of teachers and classrooms. At the start of the school year 2018, more or less 70% of the schools in Metro Manila are still implementing double shifts just to be able to accommodate the student population. In order to accommodate a growing school-age population, the Department of Education has coped with these shortages by allowing extremely large class sizes. 

Now you know why classrooms in the Philippines are the most crowded in Asia. Some public schools including Navotas National High School and President Corazon Aquino Elementary School in Metro Manila, Gov DM Elementary School in Imus Cavite, and Malingao Elementary School in Midsayap, Cotabato are just glimpses of the class size problem. The country’s public elementary school’s average class size of 43.9 is far bigger than Malaysia’s 31.7, Thailand’s 22.9, Japan’s 28.6 and India’s 40. In public secondary schools, the country registered an average size of 56.1, higher than Malaysia’s 34, Thailand’s 41.5, Japan’s 33.9 and India’s 39. Further, oversized public school classes not only deny Filipino school children quality education but also deny teachers just compensation and humane working conditions. In the current system, a teacher handling a class of 70 students is in fact taking on the workload of two teachers, without receiving any additional compensation. This practice of assigning oversized classes to teachers without extra pay is one instance where they are “overworked yet unpaid”.

Senator Grace Poe has filed Senate Bill No. 1190 in November 2019 otherwise known as “Class Size Act”, which seeks to address these concerns by mandating the regulation of class size in public schools and prescribing additional compensation for teachers handling large classes. She derives it from the declared policy of the State to protect and  promote the right of all citizens to quality education. It is likewise declared that the State shall provide just compensation and humane working conditions for public school teachers. Oversized classes in the country’s public schools adversely affect the learning  experience provided to Filipino school children. To ensure access to quality  education, it is necessary to establish standards for class size.  For their part, teachers are entitled to protection from unregulated increases  in class size as well as to compensation commensurate to their actual workload.  Poe explained that this shall be applied to all classes in all public schools of  the DepEd, and to all classroom teachers therein, whether paid by the national or local government.  She further added that each class to be handled by a single teacher shall have a standard size of 35 students. Any class with not more than 35 students be considered a standard class and any class exceeding 35 students up to a maximum of 50 students shall be considered a large class. In no case shall a class size in excess of 50 students be permitted. The senator also added that a teacher handling a large class shall be entitled to a large honorarium equivalent to one percent (1.0%) of her daily rate for every student in excess of the standard class size of 35. This formula shall apply to all classes assigned to the teacher during the school year. The amount of Php 5,000,000 is appropriated for the initial implementation if enacted into law.

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