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Win Gatchalian urges DepEd to streamline snail-paced school building process

Photo by George Calvelo

Senator-elect Win Gatchalian of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) pressed on the Department of Education (DepEd) to explain how up to a fifth of school buildings for senior high school in Metro Manila are still in construction even as the start of classes looms nearer.

“The law adding two years to our basic education system has been passed in 2013, and before that, planning for the K to 12 system has been undertaken. It has long been known that we will need to build additional classrooms for senior high school so there is no excuse for the delays in the construction of buildings,” said Gatchalian, who currently serves as a majority member of the committee on basic education and culture in the House of Representatives,

In a GMA News report, delays in the construction of 10 to 20 percent of buildings for senior high schools in the National Capital Region (NCR) are due to issues over logistics and budget.

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This, despite earlier assurances by Education Secretary Armin Luistro that incoming Grade 11 students have a sufficient number of classrooms when classes start next month. The DepEd chief was quoted as saying that “at least 30,000 new classrooms” are ready for Grade 11 students by next month, “not counting excess old classrooms that could also be used for SHS.”

Gatchalian also urged the DepEd to rationalize their procedures to expedite the construction of much-needed classrooms without sacrificing safety and quality, given that the government has to add 118,000 classrooms to meet the needs of the 4.7 million new students up to 2017.

The legislator recalled that the Budget department revealed last year that delays in the construction of classrooms are actually due to the DepEd’s “exhaustive process” linked to the identification of sites and safety validation.

It was also reported last year that P98.5 billion for the construction of classrooms, including P44.6 billion from 2014, remain unspent.

“It is clear that we don’t have a problem with financing the construction. The problem lies with DepEd’s processes, which they have to streamline for efficiency and speed. We are not saying that safety and quality should be sacrificed, but targets should be met so school children will not have to suffer from the consequences of government inefficiencies,” said Gatchalian.

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Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a statement that delays in the construction are “due to the education agency’s exhaustive process in assessing their targets,” adding: “However, the DepEd had to identify and validate the safety of these sites first as part of the national government’s ‘Build Back Better strategy.'”

If in the earlier report it claimed delays caused by problems in logistics and budget, for Culiat High School, the delay in the construction of a new 20-classroom building was caused by the demolition of an old building. As a band-aid solution, three classrooms will be allotted for incoming Grade 11 students.

DepEd-NCR director Ponciano Menguito reportedly said temporary solutions will be undertaken to absorb Grade 11 students who will be affected by the delays, admitting some school buildings will not be fully constructed in time for the opening of classes.

Gatchalian has previously filed House Bill No. 5715, seeking to amend the K to 12 law to require DepEd to report on a quarterly basis –instead of biannually as mandated by Republic Act No. 10533– the progress of the implementation of the expanded basic education program.

The lawmaker emphasized that it is necessary for the DepEd to report every three months to easily address possible gaps in the transition of the basic education curriculum.

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“Change is never easy, but K to 12 program should not fail if the government works collaboratively with the intention of making sure that quality education is delivered to the Filipino youth,” the lawmaker said.

In their progress report, DepEd will update the status on the shortages of teachers, classrooms, textbooks, school desks, and toilets. The education department is also required to submit a report on the construction of learning facilities, such as laboratories, libraries, and centers for sports, music and arts. (Monica Cantilero)