Monday, February 23, 2015

The State of Education in Tawi Tawi

Back when I was gathering information about the Patikul Project, I have spoken to a friend in Tawi Tawi who gave a brief of how the education system works in their province.

Thanks to a traveller friend, I got a ticket to fly to Tawi Tawi this weekend to check personally. We have visited 5 schools: Baloboc National High School, Malasa Primary School, Patal Elementary School, Boheb Basag Elementary School, and Layak Elementary School.

From the conversations I had with residents, teachers, and students, the development of schools in Tawi Tawi seems to be rather interventions from concerned groups: The seal of the organizing group such as AUSAid, or USAid, or "Donated by" labels from various Armed Forces Batallions.

Because a community is spread out in a vast land, and transportation is expensive, there are primary and elementary schools. Primary schools have been setup to address the need to travel very far away. Primary schools would normally have pre-school and grades 1-4. When students reach grades 5 and 6, they move to the more comprehenaive elementary schools where they would most likely temporarily reside with relatives nearby.

Because there is not enough classrooms and teachers, students from supposedly several grade levels (e.g. grades 1 and 2, or sometimes, even 1, 2 and 3) are mixed up into a 1-2 hours class a day.

In cases where there is an available teacher but not a room, a divider is put into one room. .But dividing the room will mean compressing the classrooms and calibrating the noise. 

dividers used to split 1 classroom into 2 grade levels

With the shortage of teachers, instructors will have to divide their time to accomodate teaching for the other grade levels. 

Mixing up grade schools, and counting the hours spent teaching at each class, I realized the teaching hours is just rounding up to around 4. I have wondered if work is not counted per 8 hours. 

Technically speaking, these teachers are volunteer individuals receiving an allowance of P2,000 per month, and this will be inclusive of any resource they may need in teaching, such as chalks, papers, etc. Truth be told though that there is not enough employment opportunity in the province; People actually chase and fight for even these volunteer opportunities. This is the most you can get for some and is actually better than nothing.

To supplement the under-employment and satisfy their needs,especially if they are raising a family of their own, they have to do some additional livelihood on the side. Hence, they can not complete an 8 hour task. On the side, they work on farming, etc. I was hoping they can have more dedication, especially their children are attending the same classes, but we can't hold them accountable as well for the little that they are receiving. 

The result, its the kids, short of what is supposed to be their right to learn.

Going into the structure of the schools, you can safely assume that the bigger and better room must have been for the lower grade levels. There would have been an estimated 40 students in a class of mixed grades 1 and 2. The enrollment then declines as they progress in school. 

Students become lazy to keep coming back to school because they have to walk 3-4 kilometers away, for an hour (or two) of class, at which the lesson would have been heard earlier; in the case of Grade 2 students who are mixed up with grade 1. 

By the time they enter grade 5-6, there would have been only less than 10 of them left from that class of 40. Consequently, they get the worse room in the school. Such as that in Patal Elementary school where their wooden, not so ventillated classroom, don't even have flooring. 

interior of the Patal Elementary School Grade 6 in Tawi Tawi

Patal Elementary School Grade 6 room in Tawi Tawi

Layak Elementary School Grade 6 in Tawi Tawi

On one of the conversations I had with the teachers, asking her about what the students could be learning out of their schooling, like if a grade 5 student can answer 7 times 8 (7 x 8 = ?), she said, maybe not. They realize they can only teach so much because of the very limited resources, and so, as per advice from their principal, so long as they can read and write, that shall be good enough.

Because there is no fund for seats, students squat in the floor of the classrooms. They would be lucky if there is a provision for linoleum cover for the flooring.  

Of all the 5 elementary schools we have visited in Tawi Tawi, only the Boheh Basag Elementary school had 1 classroom for every grade level; Thanks to the volunteer teachers who has been sharing P250 each every month since 2013 as installment payment for the purchase of materials for the construction of additional makeshift classrooms for the kids. 

Boheh Basag Elementary School in Tawi Tawi

Boheh Basag Elementary School in Tawi Tawi

Makeshift classrooms Boheh Basag Elementary School in Tawi Tawi funded by teachers

grade 6 room in Boheh Basag Elementary School in Tawi Tawi

Boheh Basag Elementary School in Tawi Tawi

One school did not have toilets. The school is nowhere near the houses of the students, so what happens is, when there is an extreme need to go to toilet, students go home, and would be so lazy to come back to school especially if they were close to the dismissal.

Toilet in Patal Elementary School in Tawi Tawi

It was also ironic that while the other schools did not have enough rooms, there were schools, such as the Malasa primary school where there was a new structure built, whereas the old structure could have just been repaired, and excess from funds could have been used for other necessities such as chairs. Moreover, there seems to be only 1 volunteer teacher for primary school, grades 1-2, and grade 4, and then another teacher courtesy of an NGO for grade 3. In turn, only 2 out of the 4 classrooms are actually used. The vicinity of the school is also quite bushy and forested. 

Malasa Primary School

abandoned buildings in Malasa Primary school in Tawi Tawi

abandoned buildings in Malasa Primary school in Tawi Tawi

As mentioned on the shortage of chairs, one of the rooms of the abandoned structure had chairs which could have been used, but for some reason, they were locked inside the old building.

We also spotted some new books hanging loose on the floors of the locked abandoned building. Later, we asked the teachers why books are not being used, and we were told these were provided for K-12 curriculum (which is an impossible concept in this province because of the lack of resources; not even the grade school 1-6 system is working). 

Last February, we were able to provide a small amount of Laboratory Materials for Balabac National High School. 

To see other schools in Sulu,
see here for Tandu Bagua Primay School
Tandu Dagmay Primay School

For other efforts in the SULU, see our #SULOngSULU page

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