School bust | Inquirer Business

School bust

The school year just opened and the guys down here in my barangay scurried around again, looking for the right “connection,” desperately wanting to put their kids to schools with … ah, well, classrooms.

I am not kidding, boss. Due to the severe lack of classrooms in this country, students actually hold classes under trees. But only if there are still available trees in the schools!

It is clear that the shortage of classrooms in public schools already turned into a crisis situation. Each year that we do not meet the need for new classrooms, we simply add up to the backlog. This is piling up fast. Based on one estimate in business, we need to build at least 200,000 classrooms immediately.


The figure comes from the influential Management Association of the Philippines, or MAP, which recently presented a long list of must-do proposals to our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS). One of them is a blueprint for the construction of those 200,000 new classrooms, to be funded mainly by the private sector. Wow!


Well, in the past several years, big business has committed huge resources to education. Look, taipans already bought into universities, among them Alfredo Yuchengco (Mapua Institute of Technology), Lucio Tan (University of the East), and Henry Sy (National University). Lucio Tan also formed organizations and foundations directed at improving our education system. Metrobank group’s George Ty set up an annual award for outstanding public school teachers.

Heading the MAP education task force is no less than former Education Secretary Jesli Lapus, who has been an active member of the association dating back to his days as CEO of a multinational firm. Over the next five years, according to Lapus, we are facing a classroom shortage of about 120,000 a year—easily. To fill up the shortage, we need to spend more than P90 billion a year. This year, the budget allocation of the Aquino (Part II) administration for construction of new classrooms is a fantastic P8 billion. Pahirapan pa!


We are busted! Our children are doomed!

* * *

At present we build at most 10,000 classrooms a year mainly because those are all the government budget allows. A good part of the budget of the Department of Education, huge as it already is, actually goes to salaries of teachers and personnel. But based on the MAP position paper, Lapus wants the government to build at least 200,000 new classrooms in the next two years. His reasons for such an extraordinary figure are rather convincing. For the past several years, our population has been growing at an annual rate of more than 2 percent. Translated into the number of new kids entering the school system, that would mean just a little less than 2 million new students every year. Believe me, most of them are going to public schools that already, as of now, lack the facilities.

Minus the annual graduating classes, our normal population growth alone accounts for 25,000 new classrooms every year. Remember, at present, we are building at most 10,000 new classrooms every year. And then there is the government’s K+12 program, in which we are going to add two more years of schooling to the 10 years of basic education, meaning, aside from kindergarten, we are going to have additional 11th and 12th year. That means our kids must stay longer in school, adding at least 30 percent to the need for classrooms. Lapus estimates the additional demand at 33,000 classrooms for kindergarten pupils this year alone. Add to it some 60,000 classrooms five years from now at the start of K+12 in 2016.

The government is also campaigning for a lower dropout rate in basic education. Surely we want this program to succeed. Unfortunately it also means the public schools will have more students, which in turn means a need for more classrooms. Just an increase of 5 percent in the retention rate for basic education will already raise demand for new classrooms by 37,000 a year. Let us not even talk about the need to repair the old classrooms, which surely suffer the normal wear and tear, plus the destruction brought by the calamities such as “Ondoy” and “Falcon.” For instance, just to replace the dilapidated classrooms (normally at 5 percent of total classrooms at any one time) already comes up to about 22,000 classrooms every year. No wonder they crumble down at the slightest hint of wind and rain.

* * *

But how can the Aquino (Part II) administration fund the construction of 200,000 new classrooms in the next two years?

Lapus put down three schemes for the government, namely, leasing program, participation of the LGUs, and a bit of sacrifice for our lawmakers.

Well, for the leasing scheme, Lapus noted that in other countries, governments already use their yearly education budget to lease classrooms from private companies under a “rent-to-own” arrangement similar to equipment leasing done in business. The scheme should multiply the number of classrooms that the government can use with its yearly budget for new construction. Lapus estimates the multiplier effect at five times. That means some 50,000 classrooms, instead of only 10,000 at present. After all, as Lapus pointed out, the private sector can be enticed to such a leasing scheme particularly because it comes with the government guarantee for payment. The government simply uses the yearly budget for classroom construction, right?

Also, business has money to invest in such a scheme. A lot of money, in fact! Local banks have almost P2 trillion (yes, “trillion” with a “T”) in special time deposits with the Bangko Sentral. Those are, in effect, just idle funds, mind you!

LGUs also have a “special education fund,” or SEF, set aside from real estate taxes, and th SEF already amounts to P15 billion a year. It is hardly used. Lapus wants the LGUs to borrow money to construct 50,000 new classrooms immediately. They can then commit only half of their SEF as collateral for the loans, similar to what they are already doing with their IRA. Finally, Lapus proposed that lawmakers use even just a third of their “pork barrel” for classrooms, which can already cover the cost of more than 9,000 classrooms.

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Hmmm. Pork barrel! For classrooms! You mean, Jesli, no more kickbacks? Good luck.

TAGS: classrooms, Education, Jesli Lapus, MAP, Philippines

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