Teachers’ group gives Arroyo failing mark

Philippine Daily Inquirer
Jerry E. Esplanada

MANILA, Philippines — For failing to tackle the worsening education crisis and their job concerns in her State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was given a failing grade by the country’s public school teachers.

The President “has chosen to turn a blind eye to the worsening education crisis and a deaf ear to the teachers’ clamor for better pay in the face of dire economic conditions,” the militant Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said on Thursday.

“Mrs. Arroyo confirmed once again that the SONA is indeed the magic portal to an enchanted kingdom. Listening to (last Monday’s) speech will leave you with the impression that it’s all business as usual in the education sector,” ACT chair Antonio Tinio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net.

The President failed to mention “the huge decline in participation rates among school-age children,” said Tinio, adding over three million children from six to 15 years old have been out of school.

Last week, the National Statistical Coordination Board said that one in six school-age children have been deprived of education and the number was rising steadily.

In a study, the NSCB also disclosed that the percentage of children enrolled in primary schools was down to 83 percent in the 2006-2007 school year from 90 percent five years earlier.

The numbers were even worse for secondary education at 59 percent, though they have been steady over five years, said the same study.

According to the NSCB, the number of Filipino children who did not have access to primary education worsened to 16.8 percent of the school-age population in the schoolyear ending 2007 from 15.6 percent the previous year because of the rising cost of living.

The NSCB said the failure of the country to send more of its school-age children to school kept it offtrack of the government’s targets under the Millennium Development Goal that all Filipino kids would have access to basic education by 2015.

Education Secretary Jesli Lapus said they have been “squarely addressing the situation.”

But Lapus also said that the latest Department of Education survey for school year 2007-2008 showed an improvement with a participation rate of 85 percent.

“This has, in fact, prodded us to intensify our Oplan Balik Eskwela (Operation Back to School) and Brigada Eskwela (School Brigade) program to encourage parents to send their kids to school at no cost…We’ve also asked local government units to come up with anti-truancy ordinance so parents will ensure their children’s constant presence in school,” he said.

Lapus expressed hope the DepEd “can count on the support of organizations such as ACT in educating the public on key education issues.”

On Thursday, Tinio said Arroyo had yet to do anything to improve school participation rates beyond giving out a few scholarships.

He referred to “numerous flaws and limitations in the government’s system of vouchers and subsidies, which Mrs. Arroyo mentioned in her speech.”

“But they are only available for high school. There’s no equivalent for elementary. They are also limited in scale,” Tinio said.

The ACT leader said that while millions needed assistance, only about 200,000 students have been benefitting from aid.

“And lower middle class students of private high schools are the main beneficiaries, not the poor who are dropping out,” Tinio pointed out, referring to the subsidies given to some students who enroll in private schools with low tuition rates to ease the pressure on public schools.

Tinio also scoffed at the President’s “expression of caring for the plight of public school teachers in her SONA.”

“If she truly cares, then why has she totally ignored our demand for a P9,000 increase that will give teachers decent salaries and restore the status of the teaching profession? It seems that she cares more for military and police personnel to whom her administration has granted substantial hikes in pay and benefits over the years,” the ACT head added.

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