Turning walls into doors

Our unit in Pag-asa proposed to the Department of Education to help the lone teacher who teaches grade one to six students.

(Photo by Analy Labor)

An unknown writer said, “To educate a child is to turn walls into doors.”

Aside from manning the coast of Pag-asa Island, two Philippine Coast Guard personnel — Ensign Jev Latic and Ensign Arnel Gomora — selflessly dedicate their passion to teaching children at Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island) in the West Philippine Sea, as face-to-face classes kicked off on 22 August.

Latic, an Education degree graduate, said what pushed him to teach more than 40 students of Pag-asa Island was the scarcity of teachers on the island, making students stop from their studies.

“Our unit in Pag-asa proposed to the Department of Education to help the lone teacher who teaches grade one to six students. That teacher is based in Puerto Princesa, Palawan without any replacement,” he said.

A teacher needs to travel for three staggering days from Puerto Princesa City to reach Pag-asa Island, making some teachers turn down offers to teach students.

Gomora said despite having no formal experience because they were called for PCG service after obtaining their teaching license, they still chose to help mold the children of the island.

“What we only have is our skills as Education graduates, nothing more. And based on my assessment, these students need to learn how to read and write, at least, for them not to be fooled in the years to come,” Gomora stated, as most people living on the island turn out to be fishermen.

Latic said each classroom, ranging from grades 1 up to 6 students, is subdivided with a curtain.

Temporary mentors

“We are dedicating an hour for each grade level for us to teach them simultaneously the basic education that they need. Frankly, it’s hard, that’s why we are calling on the government to send dedicated teachers to Pag-asa Island. The local government of Palawan said they are willing to help us,” Latic added.

The scarcity of teachers in Pag-asa Island, he said, calls for the need for the government, particularly the Department of Education, to hire more teachers.

Data showed that a total of 26,000 teaching positions have yet to be filled as of February 2021, and an additional 10,000 teaching items are created under the 2022 General Appropriations Act.

On top of these, from 2016 to 2020, an additional 1,500 to 2,500 positions are left unfilled.

Vladimer Quetua, Alliance of Concerned Teachers chairperson, said the teaching shortage is greatly affecting urban areas, where the number of students per section reaches up to 60 to 70, which would be “a recipe for disaster under the pandemic situation,” and teachers wouldn’t be able to ensure learning quality under such a dire setup.

“The reduction of class size is very important for safety and to ensure the quality of education of our students, especially now that we are striving to address the learning gaps due to more than two years of school closure,” Quetua was quoted in a radio interview.

They are also urging the House of Representatives to include in the 2023 budget the creation of more teaching positions to finally lessen the class size to 35 students per class.

With DepEd’s 2023 budget allocation of P852 billion based on the proposed P5.268-trillion General Appropriations Act, students of Pag-asa Island and other remote areas see a glimmer of hope for quality education, empowered teachers, and accelerated education system reform.

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