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Pupils return to cash-starved classes;Philippines;Briefing;International

Philippine teachers are pressing for a 30 per cent wage rise, as the state education system faces a cash crisis at the start of the new academic year.

The government expected a shortage of 21,000 classrooms nationwide as children went back to school last week, many of them to face lessons in libraries and gyms. In Quezon city, education authorities are renting private houses to use as classrooms.

One of the worst-hit areas is the southern Islamic region of Mindanao, where the department of education says it needs more than 8,000 additional teachers in elementary and high schools. Class sizes of 60 are common.

"We really can't meet the shortfalls in teachers, chairs and classrooms yearly due to the lack of (budget) allocation," said Julia Acosta, the regional planning chief in Mindanao.

While the Philippines has been relatively unscathed by Asia'seconomic crisis, the main impact on education has been cash-strapped parents withdrawing their children from the popular private-school sector, and enrolling them in the overcrowded government schools.

Education spending has risen from 13 per cent of the national budget in the early 1990s to around 17 per cent, but most of that increase has gone on teachers' salaries.

However, a teacher still gets paid only pound;149 a month and a militant union, the Alliance for Concerned Teachers, is calling for a pound;43 pay rise.

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