By Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz & Claudeth Mocon-Ciriaco
A group of concerned Filipinos and a congressman has called on the government to act on the spate of suicide involving teachers and children.
The Teachers Dignity Coalition (TDC) on Sunday urged Education Secretary Leonor M. Briones to help unburden teachers with workloads following the two suicide cases in just two months allegedly due to work-related issues.
The Department of Education (DepEd) is also in the mind of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte who filed House Bill (HB) 7858 following reports that Filipino kids as young as 10 years old have committed suicide because of depression. Villafuerte is pushing for the passage of a measure mandating the DepEd to include life education and peer counselling programs in schools.
“Two cases of [teachers’] suicide in just two months purportedly due to work-related issues should alarm the DepEd and take necessary steps,” a statement by the TDC said. “We have been raising the issue of overburden due to clerical tasks required to teachers.”
The TDC issued the statement on August 26, after receiving news a teacher took her life after 21-year-old Emylou Malate, a multi-grade teacher in La Paz, Leyte, committed suicide in their house in Limba village on July 14.
ACCORDING to TDC National Chairman Benjamin Basas, the DepEd’s introduction of a new performance rating system called “Learner Information System,” or LIS, adds pressure to teachers.
The DepEd has claimed the LIS helps teachers cut time spent on the system and allows them to focus on teaching. However, the TDC insisted “that [LIS] would again result to heavy workloads.”
“We appeal to Briones to put a halt on all the required nonteaching-related tasks, class observations and paperwork and listen to us in a dialogue,” the group said. “How many more teachers will commit suicide [for you to listen to us]?”
However, the DepEd has said it is banking on the migration of the LIS to the department’s Cloud facilities and the provision of enough resources for more than 100,000 daily users, which is four to five times the usual capacity of LIS. The DepEd emphasized this could see more users able to work with the system during the day than at night or wee hours of the morning.
“Complaints from parents and teachers have been passed on to us about the LIS, which [they said] keeps them sleepless,” Briones said. “The continuous improvements in the department all aim to help improve the welfare and efficiency of our teachers and personnel.”
DEPED Undersecretary for Administration Alain Del B. Pascua said the LIS dashboard now registers an average of 130,000 teachers accessing the system from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and only less than 1,000 users at night—opposite of the common traffic.
“This is only the beginning of a department-wide effort to improve the efficiency of existing DepEd systems,” Pascua said. “It is long overdue and it will go a long way in helping our teachers have more time to teach than working on the LIS.”
Since the improvement, system problems due to high volume of users were encountered for only three days between July 30 and August 1. The increase in capacity of key resources to accommodate more users resulted in minimal reports of slowdown.
Migration to the Cloud was a strategic decision, which allows the DepEd to easily increase or decrease the capacity of the LIS based on the current requirements without going through the long process of purchasing new equipment, Pascua explained. It also ensures that LIS will continue operations even in cases of blackouts or other untoward events that might affect the DepEd’s Data Center, he added.
The DepEd has also established a project team whose sole purpose is to improve the LIS. Recent enhancements now allow schools to enroll eligible learners who were unable to finalize enrollment in the previous school year, Balik-Aral learners who have no record in the previous year and transferees from public and private schools. Once all the planned interventions are completed, teachers will no longer need to spend long hours complying with the requirements of the LIS.
DepEd Information and Communications Technology Service (ICTS) Director Abram Y.C. Abanil, meanwhile, said the DepEd is working nonstop in their assessment of existing systems, apart from the LIS, “to ensure that they fulfill their objective of simplifying work.”
TO address suicidal tendencies of children, Villafuerte is pushing for the institutionalization of a Youth Suicide Prevention program.
The bill also intends to establish Youth Health Centers to address the stigma of mental health and identify youth issues.
According to Villafuerte, he filed the bill following the approval by Congress of the Comprehensive Mental Health Act, which aims to respond to the mental-health needs of Filipinos by integrating mental health into the general health-care system.
While the proposed law is now just waiting for the President’s signature, there is still a room for a preventive system in the case of youth suicide in the country, Villafuerte said.
Under the bill, the DepEd, in coordination with the Department of Health (DOH), is mandated to formulate and include in the elementary and secondary education curriculum a course on Life Planning.
“Life Planning Education [LPE] shall require lectures and discussions on self and identity; personal, family, community values; communication and interrelationship with others; sexuality and gender roles; community participation; health; psychological thinking and employment, among others,” the bill states. Training shall be provided to school administrators, teachers, guidance counselors and other school personnel responsible for delivering LPE, Villafuerte said.
ACCORDING to the lawmaker, youth suicide came into public light during a Senate Committee on Youth hearing on the report by the National Poison Management and Control Center (NPMCC).
Villafuerte said the report stated that Filipino kids have committed suicide because of depression. He noted the NPMCC’s report said about 16 percent of the total suicide cases recorded are from the youth, teens aged 10 to 19 years old.
A study on the prevalence of suicide attempts among Filipino youth showed that roughly 1 in 10 Filipino youth aged 15 to 27 has considered suicide an option, he added.
The lawmaker said implementing a peer- counseling program in schools will encourage positive mental health for students.
“It should include a peer-counseling training course that teaches basic counseling skills, as well as a mentor-mentee program to stimulate relationship and confidence building and skill and academic motivation,” Villafuerte said.
Under the bill, the Department of Health is tasked to conduct research and development (R&D) programs on “the effectiveness of new and existing youth suicide prevention strategies, techniques, technology, including clinical studies and evaluations of such strategies and related research aimed at reducing youth suicide and providing support for emotional and behavioral disorders, which may lead to suicide attempts.”
The DOH may also “establish a linkage with national government agencies, local government units [LGUs] and nongovernment institutions to establish a network of health facilities and teen centers catering especially to young people in order to address their identified youth issues.”
These health facilities and teen centers shall provide family services, peer counseling and other related services and may collaborate with parents, schools, religious groups and youth-serving organizations to successfully implement youth suicide prevention strategies, Villafuerte said.