Friday, December 3, 2021
HomeEssayAn afternoon with Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones

An afternoon with Education Secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones

Of private school tuition increases, Marawi, foreign-assisted projects, lumad education, and teachers’ loans

Photo by ALYSA SALEN

The security guard told us to enter via the back entrance. The front gates were locked that day since there was word of a student protest rally.

We did receive a text message from a militant student group requesting for media coverage. They said they were protesting the tuition increase in private schools, the K-12 curriculum, Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, and inflation.

But whatever vestiges of protest were already gone when we arrived. We were later told that a smattering of four to 10 students had braved the stifling heat of a late morning summer sun, appearing with protest streamers and placards. They had a “photo-op”—that 15 to 20 minutes when protesters pose with their slogans before a media photographer or two.

Alam ko yan [I know that], “ said Education Secretary Leonor Briones, “they would come here get a photo op and leave.

That Monday, the militant group Anakbayan lambasted the Department of Education (DepEd) for “allowing more than 500 private schools to raise tuition and other fees by a range of 5-15 percent.”

“Allowing tuition fee increases in private schools is cruel, unreasonable, and anti-people especially given the additional two years of schooling under K-12 and the unprecedented spike in the price of basic commodities such as food and fuel caused by the TRAIN Law,” Anakbayan said in a statement.

But Briones said that only 400 schools were allowed to raise their tuition out of 20,000 private schools in the country. “They were allowed on the condition that 70% of the increase will go to teachers’ salaries.”

Briones added that private school teachers were paid 30% to 70% less than teachers in public schools, except for those teaching in the top exclusive private schools.

MARAWI

The Education Secretary told of her recent visit to Marawi, saying she was at Ground Zero and witnessed a great number of school buildings were decimated.

“There were schools that were still whole. In one school, nag-take home ako ng isang bote ng live bullets at isang zip lock ng bullets din [I took home a bottle of live bullets and a zip lock of bullets]. Bullets and schools should not mix,” Briones said.

For those schools that were destroyed, the government has provided temporary working sheds that would be good for two years.

“Our sheds are cooler and more comfortable than the thick and hot tents provided by the United Nations (UN), which were designed for colder climes,” she added.

FOREIGN-ASSISTED

Briones said that DepEd has partnered with some foreign countries like Australia, Japan, Korea, and China for a number of education projects.

Department of Education Secretary Leonor Briones (right) and BusinessMirror Publisher T. Anthony Cabangon (left) sign a memorandum of agreement for Mission: PHL, the BusinessMirror‘s Envoys and Expats Awards. Photo by ALYSA SALEN

“These are only in select places. Some of them donate school buildings. But like I said, you cannot expect one country to donate all school buildings for 29 million students. We do not expect foreign partners to deliver services for us. We have to do it ourselves. They (foreign countries) help out but they are not the main thing. That is why education has the highest allocation in the budget,” she said.

Briones mentioned that Australia, Japan, and Korea are more into global citizenship projects and curriculum development. “They usually tell us what is happening, how they deal with problems, and their best practices like how they teach Math and Information Technology (IT).”

LUMAD SCHOOLS

According to Briones, DepEd has built around 150 schools for indigenous peoples (IPs) already. All these schools have government permits.

“If you put up a school for our Muslim brothers and sisters, schools for lumads (non-Muslim IPs in Mindanao), you have to get a permit,” she said.

Before a permit is issued the school has to have a definite site and a particular number of students. DepEd will need to visit and inspect the school.

“We have requirements like, you cannot have a school in the mind. We need a site for that school. You cannot have a school with imaginary students. You’ve got to have a physical number of students. We check all of that. We give temporary permits until they have a curriculum,” Briones said.

When asked about the status of the lumad school Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Development, Inc. (ALCADEV), the DepEd Secretary said that the school does not have a permit and operates on its own.

ALCADEV is a non-formal school based in Surigao province in Mindanao. In recent years, it has been the scene of lumad killings with no less than its executive director, the late Emerito Samarca, murdered in the ALCADEV classroom in Lianga, Surigao del Sur.

Briones said they have been encouraging ALCADEV to get a permit so that the school can avail of government support provided for lumads. A permit is also a requirement for developing a curriculum that will be credited by other schools that their students will eventually transfer to.

Briones bared that DepEd has a number of IP schools. “We have more than 2,000 IPs all over the Philippines and they have permits.”

The DepEd secretary said: Alcadev is very clear. I know them quite well. I have talked with the head of the school.First question I asked: Do you have a permit? And the founder of the school said, ‘No.’ And I said you and I belong to the same faith. Lumad schools with permits have done very well. Some have even studied abroad.”

TEACHERS’ LOANS

Briones said DepEd has resolved the problem of teachers’ loans that have put the government agency in a bad light.

She cited a provision in the General Appropriations Act which states that priority in the deduction of obligations of teachers has to be given to government institutions, before private lending institutions (PLIs).

However, there is another provision that states that the net take home pay of teachers should not be less than P5,000.

“We follow the provision of the law which states that government institutions like the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) first and PLIs next. And because we have to maintain the net pay at P5,000, we tell the PLIs to settle with the teachers on their own. They (PLIs) negotiate directly,” Briones said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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