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New Law on Neutral School Desks Boosts DepEd’s 5-Year School Furniture Replacement Program

As early as 2017, the Department of Education (DepEd) has already discussed the provision of neutral school furniture. The consultations of the Office of the Undersecretary for Administration (OUA) with teachers nationwide resulted in the decision of abandoning and doing away with armchairs.

Beginning 2018 under the Public Schools of the Future framework, DepEd has been providing new school furniture, specifically tables and chairs. One table and two chairs comprise one school furniture set.

In 2018, DepEd’s School Building Program has already proposed a five-year replacement plan to replace existing armchairs in existing classrooms with the new school furniture design. However, the approved funds allotted for school furniture are not enough for this endeavor.

The passage of Republic Act No. 11394 entitled the Mandatory Provision of Neutral Desks in Educational Institutions Act is very much welcome as the new law which mandates the obligatory provision of neutral desks to all students fully supports the implementation of DepEd’s five-year replacement plan.

As stated in the law, a neutral desk means a table or an armchair that is suitable for both right-handed and left-handed students, the exact description and intention of DepEd’s new tables and chair furniture set.

Prior to the adoption of the new school furniture design, DepEd’s Education Facilities Division (EFD) has been allocating 2 left-handed armchairs per set of 45 armchairs or about 4% of total armchairs for learners per classroom. But the uncertainty of actual numbers of left-handed learners per classroom and per school would always result in either the lack of or oversupply of left-handed armchairs in a given school. This is one of the reasons that prompted the department to study the adoption of neutral school furniture.

Moreover, the 1-table and 2-chair setup is adopted to address two other factors. One is the need for more flexibility, accommodation of multiple layouts, and appropriateness of the furniture to be moved and organized to encourage more collaboration among learners, such as face-to-face group arrangements inside the classroom. The second is the need for a wider platform for the proper and safe usage of computer tablets and laptops in the classroom. These two factors cannot be adequately addressed by armchairs, even if they are neutral, further strengthening the decision to use tables and chairs instead.

DepEd’s Digital Rise Program includes bringing computer tablets and laptops for learners’ use inside their classrooms and no longer in computer laboratories. This enables information and communications technology (ICT) equipment to be used as daily tools and equipment in the learning and teaching process.

In 2017, the cost of an armchair was P900.00. The new tables and chairs cost P4,800.00 per set. In a classroom setup, the cost of school furniture under the old design is P44,500.00 (45 armchairs, 1 teacher table, and chair), while the new design costs P114,400.00 per classroom (23 tables, 46 chairs, and 1 teacher table and chair).

From the 2018 funds, DepEd has procured and delivered 1,396,614 new tables and chairs for 30,412 new classrooms.

For 2019, about 858,950 new tables and chairs are in the process of being procured for 18,734 new classrooms in 2,605 schools nationwide, bringing a total of 2,255,564 new tables and chairs for 33,017 new classrooms.

All new classrooms and new school buildings to be constructed for 2020 and onwards have corresponding numbers of these new tables and chairs. The proposed 2020 funds of the department for school furniture amounting to P4,833,515,000.00 would be able to purchase additional 1,943,546 tables and chairs for 42,251 new classrooms in various schools.

Since there are 707,600 existing classrooms at the end of 2017, the five-year plan intends to replace 18,199,305 existing armchairs in a span of five years. This would cost about P16,189,888.00 per year for the next 5 years, or a total of P80,949,440,000.00. This is on top of the regular allocation for school furniture for new classrooms to be constructed. If we start this in 2020, we can have all the armchairs replaced by 2025.

Source: DepEd Undersecretary Alain Del B. Pascua

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