DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao (MindaNews/12 Sept) – In the rainy days of mid July, students of the Dulangan National High School each look for a place inside their classrooms so as not to get wet as rains poured over the dilapidated school building, the water penetrating through the holes of the galvanized iron roofing.
“There’s no class, our blackboard is wet,” said senior student Esmael Ayao. While this may be a common joke for some students when asked why they don’t have class, it is real here in Dulangan.
The blackboard situated at the left side of the ramshackle school building has traces of water flowing right in the middle. The armchairs, too, can’t escape from the rains, further aggravated by the fact that students tend to sit on the desk, their feet on the chair as the unpaved flooring gets muddy.
“Rainy days like this, we suffer a lot. Classes are disturbed because we have to find a spot so we don’t soak in rain waters. Even though we are inside the classroom, our shoes are stuck in the mud,” lamented Ella Abdullah, a 13-year-old freshman.
Fourth year volunteer teacher Baikan Ayao said that water coming from higher ground stream down their classroom.
Nolambai Kamza, another volunteer teacher in Araling Panlipunan in first year, said they have no choice but to stop the class during rains. Then in a few moments, the students are gone.
It is a different story during the month of September.
During the first week of the month, teachers and students climb up a stairway towards the hill to attend the Monday flag raising ceremony. No rains this time of year.
A foggy forested mountain in the background greeted everyone with a cool breeze of air, which made the flag dance freely and waving as the wind gently touches it. It’s a cool sunny day as the children sang the national anthem.
But as the sun comes up, the mood in the classroom changes, as the temperature rises late in the morning, towards noon, and in the afternoon. By then, teachers and students use their fans vigorously.
The G.I. roofing hit by the intense heat of the afternoon sun is just a little over a meter away from their heads. For others, only tarpaulin protect them from the sun, which is just as hot.
Thus, some students use umbrellas inside the classroom, to cover their face and arms from the infuriating ray of the sunlight as they write down their notes.
“For us here, the umbrella serves to purposes – against the rain and against the sun,” said Ayao, who protects himself from the sun with his umbrella.
Aside from the rain and the sun, yet another annoyance is present in the classrooms ¬– noise.
One, a dilapidated G.I. roof, in the middle of the fourth year classroom, gives out irritating sound as strong winds come.
Two, with nothing but just a thin plywood dividing the classrooms, it’s a ruckus when students do recitation and reading exercises, or when they just talk to each other. Volunteer teacher Ivy Jane Baladia, who teaches physics, admitted she just could not concentrate in her lectures.
“Sometimes I would personally request students in the other room to tone down their voices,” she said.
The school has a student population of 219 – 58 in first year, 59 in the second, 65 in the third and 37 in the fourth. But it is common that many students absent from class. Like in this afternoon of our visit, only 10 showed up in the first year class, 20 in second year, 7 in third year and only 6 in fourth year. There much more students who joined in the morning flag ceremony early in the morning.
Not that they are lazy. Far from it. Many of them just have other important things to do than going to school ¬– like finding food for the family.
Nasruddin Bualan, at 19, is still in third year high school when at his age he should be in third year college. Last week, he attended only two days of his class.
“My priority is the stomach of my family. I help my father in our farm and in making charcoal,” he said, noting that those were the family’s only sources of income. There are 10 of them children. But he is proud to say that while in school, he sees to it that he can cope up with the lessons missed. Going to college is not one of his plans.
Dulangan National High School used to be an annex of a bigger secondary school. But three years ago, they decided to establish the school in the hill to serve the young constituents in the community.
But until now, the school still lacks facilities – books, tables, chairs and even a decent school building.
Its teachers are poorly paid. Except for the principal, all of the eight volunteer teachers of this school are receiving an honorarium of only P1,700 a month coming from local government funds, surely not enough for a family’s needs.
The latest National Achievement Test conducted last March among second year students of this school showed that they only have an average score of 55.29, way below the passing rate of 75 percent.
But the situation is not true only to the Dulangan National High School.
Education indicators for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) show that access to quality education remains worst in this region. At least 5.7 million books and around 4,000 classrooms with facilities are needed, not to mention the number of teachers required in running a school.
Apparently, it is not only Nasruddin who is missing his lessons. In a survey conducted in ARMM schools revealed that 33 percent of the students miss classes for poverty-related reasons. These include sickness, the need to help parents, family related problems, lack of food and having no uniform. Also, the lack of security, the prevalence of armed conflict, and the use of schools as evacuation centers for internally displaced people (IDP) cause major disruption to schooling.
ARMM Education Secretary Baratucal Caudang admitted that they do not have enough funds to address the problem.
But still there is hope.
For instance, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) has a development package worth P3.57 billion for its Basic Education Assistance in Mindanao (BEAM). “Things would be better in the next six years,” Caudang promised.
The BEAM for Muslim Mindanao will be implemented from 2012 to 2018 by the DepEd-ARMM. It is aimed at improving basic education performance in the ARMM “by addressing fundamental issues, such as low levels of intake, participation, completion rates, and learning achievement for both high school and elementary.”
The program hopefully will benefit the likes of Ella the freshman, whose parents cannot afford to send her to better schools in the city.
“I won’t give up, after all I have no choice. I just hope someday they will see our situation and address our needs,” she said. (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)