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A statistics major, Leticia Subang spent the first 10 years of her professional career as an economic reporter covering for the Philippines' leading business paper. She later opted to become a free lance writer while working for her Masters Degree in Development Management. In the next ten years, she worked for a number of leading government agencies - the National Power Corporation, Public Estates Authority, Departments of Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Labor and Employment, and Energy.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

OFWs help solve classroom shortage

For the past three years, overseas Filipino workers have been helping raise funds to build classrooms in public schools under the Classroom Galing sa Mamayang Pilipino Abroad (CGMA), a project managed by the Department of Labor and Employment.

A total of P74.1 million has been donated as of November 30,2005and more pledges are coming in. The amount pooled is being used to build 376 classrooms, of which 296 have been completed. A total of 172 elementary and high schools all over the country is now benefiting from the program.

To cope with the acute classroom shortage, many public schools have adopted multi-shift schedules to be able to hold more classes. In many instances, several grade levels are being handled simultaneously by teachers in each classroom while thousands of public school students are holding classes under the trees or in makeshift structures.

The CGMA program is gaining headway, particularly in the rural areas where an additional classroom could mean a lot for both the pupils and the teachers.

DOLE’s team of labor attaches are actively soliciting donations from overseas Filipino workers. The project is a collaborative effort of the DOLE, Departments of Education and of Foreign Affairs and the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, manages the actual construction of the buildings.

“We have barely scratched the surface but we have made a good start and must be able to sustain the momentum,” says Labor and Employment Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas.

Assuming that a room is used by a class of 50, at least 19,000 public school students are now benefiting from CGMA efforts.

“The response from our donors, both here and abroad, has been encouraging,” says Labor Undersecretary Danilo Cruz, the program’s executive director. “This is a further validation of the long-established value given to education by most Filipinos. We believe that giving our youth better access to education would help solve our unemployment and underemployment problem.”

“In addition to the support from our OFWs, we are starting to attract the attention of local donors, particularly corporations who have identified education as one of the areas for their corporate responsibility projects,” Sto. Tomas says. “We are pleased to note that all regions have benefited from the CGMA program. WE owe our ability to expand the coverage of CGMA to the continued generosity of our local and foreign donors.”

Data from the Department of Education show that at the elementary level, the shortage is most acute in Metro Manila, which needs close to 9,000 additional classrooms, followed by Region 4-A or Southern Tagalog (close to 3,000 classrooms) and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (with a little over 1,000 rooms). These three regions have the highest enrolments at the elementary levels.

More is needed for the public high schools where total enrolment now stands at 3,202,757. The country’s public high school system has 41,039 classrooms, while the ideal, at 50 students per class, should be a little over 64,000 classrooms.

The enrolment pattern for high school students is different. The highest is in Region 4-A, followed by Metro Manila and Region 3 (Central Luzon) and Region 7 (Central Visayas). Many elementary graduates from the rural areas are sent to live with their relatives and friends in the urban centers, often working as house helps, to be able to finish their high school education.

With the country’s high population growth, the classroom shortage is increasing every year. According to the COA report, the entire public school system now needs close to 45,000 more classrooms. Given CGMA’s ballpark cost of $4,000 per classroom, at least $180 million will be needed to meet this shortage.

“The amount may sound staggering but that represents about 2% of the total remittances of our overseas workers,” Sto. Tomas says.

If every Filipino working abroad could give a one-time donation of $22.50 each, then the acute classroom shortage would be solved. About seven to eight million Filipinos are working abroad remitting over $8.6 billion in 2004. The Bangko Sentral estimates that OFW remittances reached $12 billion in 2005.

Even if just a third of the 12,000 Filipino community associations abroad would donate a classroom, then 4,000 could be built in public schools that are in need.

“We should invest in the education of our youth so our country could be assured of highly-skilled entrants into our labor force. We do not only solve our unemployment problem, we will also be able to increase our national productivity,” Sto. Tomas adds.

Total CGMA Donations (as of November 30, 2005)

Personal - 86 donors - P12,683,184.60

Filipino community associations, non-government and civic organizations - 78 donors - P30,059,778.28

Corporations and foundations - 63 donors - P24,092,584.49

Diplomatic community - 8 donors - P 2,418,972.55

Local government units - 4 donors - P 1,460,000.00

Cash pool - P 1,352,959.26

Total - 225 donors - P74,067,479.18

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