Kalayaan town opens public school on Pag-asa Island
MANILA, Philippines —While some schools struggled with crowded classrooms, one of the country’s newest and farthest public schools is looking to attract even more students to enroll.
After more than three decades without a school house, Kalayaan town on Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratlys territory in the West Philippine Sea, opened an elementary school this month in hopes of bringing education to island students.
“If you talk of social services on the island, we have housing, we have health, but when it comes to education, we’re zero. For 34 years, we had no school and residents were already clamoring for it,” Kalayaan town Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.
“Students have always had to leave the island for the mainland (Palawan) to study. They would stay with one parent or their grandparents there, and so the family will be separated. And I wanted to change that,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer when reached by phone.
The Pag-asa Elementary School, a school house built from an old multi-purpose hall using salvaged construction materials, held its first class on June 15, with five kindergarten students. The school hired one teacher from the mainland, getting her to agree to move her family to the island.
Grade schoolers had already started schooling in the mainland at the time the school opened, but Bito-onon is hopeful that they would come back to the island before the end of the first grading period to continue studies there.
Pag-asa is some 285 nautical miles from Palawan, or a boat trip that could exceed a full day, depending on the sea condition.
“Maybe in two months, we could open classes from Grades 1 to 3, if we can convince them to return to the island in time before the 1st grading period,” Bito-onon said.
“I know the problem [of how children’s schooling separated families]. That’s why I thought it’s high time for us to have a school house here,” he said.
The mayor said the municipal government had no problem building the school and starting operations, saying most of the resources were already on island.
For the school, islanders walled in the town’s old multi-purpose hall, dividing it into two rooms. For school supplies, the mayor used books donated to the island earlier this year.
“It wasn’t really difficult for us. And the parents were excited, they even participated in Brigada Eskwela (schools clean-up),” Bito-onon said.
The mayor is requesting funding from the provincial government and DepEd to sustain the school’s operation and build more classrooms in the future.
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