Pag-asa opens 1st school, looks for more pupils
While crowded classrooms are a problem in many parts of the country, the latest addition to the public school system is looking for pupils.
After more than three decades without a schoolhouse, Kalayaan town on Pag-asa Island, part of the disputed Spratlys territory in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), opened an elementary school this month in hopes of bringing education to island’s children.
“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,” said Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.
“Students always had to leave the island for the mainland (Palawan province) to study. They would stay with one parent or their grandparents there, and so the family members are separated. I wanted to change that,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.
Pag-asa Elementary School, built from an old multipurpose hall using secondhand construction materials, held its first class on June 15 with five kindergarten students.
Teacher from mainland
The school hired one teacher from the mainland who agreed to move her family to the island.
Grade schoolers had started schooling on the mainland by the time the school opened, but Bito-onon is hopeful that they would return to Pag-asa before the end of the first grading period to continue studies there.
Pag-asa lies 527 kilometers (285 nautical miles) west of Palawan. A boat trip to the island could take the entire day, depending on the sea condition.
“Maybe in two months, we can open classes from Grades 1 to 3, if we can convince them to return to the island in time before the first grading period,” Bito-onon said.
“I know the problem [of how the children’s schooling separated families]. That’s why I thought it was high time for us to have a school 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 the island.
Islanders walled in the town’s old multipurpose hall, dividing it into two rooms. For school supplies, the mayor used books donated earlier this year.
“It wasn’t really difficult for us. And the parents were excited, they even participated in the cleanup activity Brigada Eskwela,” Bito-onon said.
The mayor is requesting funding from the provincial government and the Department of Education to maintain the school and build more classrooms in the future.
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