March 17, 2023
MANILA – With a classroom backlog of more than 165,000 at the end of 2022, the Department of Education (DepEd) is looking at other funding sources outside the national budget to fill up the severe gap affecting millions of public school students, Education Undersecretary Epimaco Densing III said Thursday.
The staggering shortage has affected at least 4 million to 5 million students nationwide, Densing said.
“That’s more or less 15 to 20 percent of the learners, at least in the public school area,” he told reporters at the awarding of a P14.5-million grant from the Japanese Embassy to build an elementary school in Ilog town, Negros Occidental province.
READ: DBM: Not enough funds to address classroom shortage in 2023 budget
Densing said that getting money from private organizations and foreign governments can help make up for the lack of state funds.
“This is our strategy right now,” he said. “We’re looking for sources outside of the national budget. For example, this grant by the Embassy of Japan is a welcome development.”
He said DepEd was also looking at contributions or donations from civil society groups, nongovernmental organizations and business groups to fill the funding gap.
P150 intel funds
“With the construction of a new school building, students will have secure and quality classrooms.” Japanese Ambassador Kazuhiko Koshikawa said during the grant signing ceremony.
The grant will be used to build a two-story six-classroom building for a “safer and more comfortable learning space” for 215 students in Ilog, according to the Japanese Embassy.
Densing said donors would be given incentives, including tax credits, under Republic Act No. 8525, or the Adopt-A-School-Program.
Out of the P710-billion budget allocated to DepEd for 2023, only P15.6 billion has been dedicated to building new classrooms, according to Densing.
DepEd has a confidential fund of P150 million, which critics had sought to realign for education-related spending, rather than being used against “sexual grooming” of students and “recruitment by terrorists”—the justification for the fund sought by Vice President Sara Duterte, who is also the education secretary.
READ: DepEd to keep its P150-million intel funds in 2023 budget
The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) said the money could be used to fill glaring shortages in public school supplies and equipment, and the repair and construction of classrooms.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros had made similar proposals.
Densing said that to effectively address the backlog, DepEd would need at least P100 billion per year “to zero out the shortage of classrooms all over the country” by 2030.
With its current budget, DepEd will be able to construct 6,421 new classrooms this year, about half of the ideal 13,000 to catch up to the yearly 2 percent increase in enrollees.
Contrary to common notions, highly urbanized areas like Cebu City and Metro Manila need more classrooms than those in rural areas, as schools in big cities often hold two to three shifts of classes to cope with their denser student population, according to Densing.
If things continue to be the way they are, “I’m quite sure it will be more than 20 years at that rate [to solve the 160,000 classroom shortage],” he said.
“The appeal really is for everybody to help us,” the education official said.
For now, DepEd is also considering tapping loan programs from foreign governments.
Densing added that they are also prioritizing “repairs and rehabilitation” of more than 20,000 classrooms damaged or destroyed in natural calamities.
He said DepEd would focus on the repair and rehabilitation of classrooms not currently being used because of possible hazards.
“So if we’re able to repair and rehabilitate these classrooms based on our inventory of around 20,830 classrooms we’re talking about giving learning facilities to more than 80,000 students,” Densing said.
He said they were also seeking support from private organizations like the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry in repairing the classrooms that were either damaged or destroyed by the series of storms that hit the country last year.