IF the return to face-to-face (F2F) classes in some areas will become nationwide next school year, the government should now go full blast in building schools, hiring teachers, and buying books and equipment.
The call was made Tuesday by UniTeam senatorial candidate and former Quezon City Mayor Herbert “Bistek” Bautista, who noted that government has 18 weeks left to ready the 47,612 public schools for the expected August opening of the school year 2022-2023.
“Lumiliit ang window of opportunity,” the three term-mayor of Quezon City, the country’s largest by land area, said. “Preparations for our children’s education should be as focused as preparations for the national elections.”
According to Bautista, if COVID-19 cases continue to dwindle, it will eventually “end the longest physical closure of schools in our history.”
But the 24 million public school returnees, he added, should not go back to schools “with deficiencies the pandemic has worsened.”
“Kailangan may sapat na bilang ng classrooms at teachers, bagong libro, at mga kumpletong kagamitan,” Bautista said.
To ensure that these are ready by the time schools reopen, Bautista said the Department of Education (DepEd) must spend without delay its “mega allocation” in the 2022 national budget.
“For example, the DepEd has in its disposal P3.18 billion for new classrooms and laboratory this year,” said Bautista, who is running under the platform of “Internet reform, Livelihood for all and Youth development”, or ILY.
On top of this, he added, is a P1.03-billion allocation for the repair and renovation of school buildings.
Bautista said the P1.12 billion earmarked for school desks and furniture must be spent with deliberate speed.
“Merong pang pondo ang DepEd na halos kalahating bilyong piso para health, sanitation, and water facilities,” he pointed out. “Ang mga ito ay dapat nasa last stages na ng procurement.”
Bautista also batted “for the speedy acquisition of the items” listed in the P1.5-billion fund to modernize “last mile schools”, which are located in poor and hard-to-reach areas.
But what should be given the highest priority, Bautista stressed, is the hiring of new teachers and the promotion of those whose assignment or length of service makes them deserving of a salary bump.
“The recruitment should be year-round. DepEd is one job fair that never closes,” he explained because a “net increase of just 40 students triggers the hiring of one teacher,” Bautista explained.
DepEd has 990,995 authorized personnel positions, of which 46,632 are vacant.
“Let us fill these with competent, qualified, and dedicated teachers,” Bautista said.