Shorter classes in public schools hit

By Gemma Bagayaua Mendoza – If you were in grade 1 three decades ago, you would have spent at least 8 hours every day at school. This already included lunch and mid-morning breaks or recess, said former Education Undersecretary Miguel Luz.

Nowadays, he added, pupils in overcrowded public elementary schools are expected to learn more, if not the same amount of information, while spending half the time their predecessors spent in school.

This, he said, is essentially the impact of the new policy of the Department of Education (DepEd) to reduce the number of class hours in elementary schools to only 4 ½ hours.

Reduced class hours

In an interview with ABS-CBN’s “Umagang Kay Ganda,” DepEd Undersecretary Vilma Labrador said the initiative will only be implemented in overcrowded schools as a way to solve the perennial lack of classrooms.

Labrador explained during the interview that classes that have more than 50 students have to be divided into two sessions.

Under the new program, Grade 1 and 2 pupils will have four hours of classes daily while third graders will have four-and-a-half hours of classes. Students in Grades 4, 5 and 6, meantime, will get five hours.

To cram all the required lessons in the new schedule, and compensate for the reduced hours, certain subjects will be integrated into other subjects.

Sibika and Cultura (Civics and Culture) classes will reportedly be integrated with Filipino, while Edukasyong Pantao will be integrated in other subjects.

Math subjects, meanwhile, will be taught in one-and-a-half hour classes for Grades 1, 2 and 3, while those in Grades 4, 5 and 6 will have one-hour Math classes.

The subjects of Heograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika (HEKASI), Science, Health, Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan, and Music, Arts and Physical Education (M-SEP) will each be taught in 40-minute classes.

Integration is built into the revised basic education curriculum, former acting education secretary Fe Hidalgo told Newsbreak. Done by a skillful teacher, it can enable a student to approach various subject matters in a holistic manner.

Hidalgo, however, pointed out that teachers need to be trained on how to integrate meaningfully.

Further, even with integration, she pointed to studies that show that “time on task” or the amount of time spent by a student learning a particular subject matter have a significant impact on learning outcomes.

Coping mechanism became the norm

Double-shifting is nothing new. Many schools in Metro Manila have been practicing this for years.

“This is a problem of not enough teachers and not enough classrooms,” Luz explained. Classes are double-shifted so that you can use the classroom twice a day.

But because of the practice of shifting, students either have to go to school very early (as early as 5:30 am) if they are on the morning shift, or at dusk if they are part of the afternoon shift.

Thus, the idea of shortening class hours further emerged. “Pag ginawa po natin yun, yung usual na time-frame ng pagpasok ng mga bata ay mapipilitan tayo na 5:30 [a.m.] pa lang, papasok na ang mga bata no? At yun ang tinitignan natin na mae-endanger ang safety ng ating mga anak,” Labrador noted.

“We don’t want our children to go home when it’s already dark so we thought of implementing this as an immediate intervention,” said Labrador.

Luz, however, considers the idea preposterous. “This is crazy. Double-shifting is just a coping mechanism,” he said. “The idea is to use it in the short-run but build infrastructure and hire teachers in the long term.”

Forgetting the basics

Instead of just being considered a coping mechanism, Luz said the Arroyo administration has started to consider double-shifting as a major fix to the problem.

“This is what happens when the president makes an announcement that double-shifting is going to be the solution to the congestion problem,” Luz told Newsbreak.

Luz referred to an incident back in 2006, when President Arroyo scolded then Acting Education Secretary Hidalgo when she reported a net shortage of 6,832 classrooms during a Cabinet meeting.

Arroyo chastised Hidalgo then for not factoring in double-shifting in her computations.

The real solution, according to Luz, is to hire more teachers and build more classrooms.

“You have to plan this long term. That’s why we increased the budget,” he said. “Since 2007, we already convinced NEDA and DBM that we should be having 8 to 9 percent a year to solve this problem of congestion.” Now, Luz said, the education department’s budget has been growing by P14 billion per year.

This should have allowed the department to hire more teachers and build more classrooms. “What’s happening though is its being spent on many other things such as distributing rice, buying computers. They are spending on other things while ignoring the most important. They are not dealing with the basic problem.”

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