The semester break's about to end and in a couple of weeks, it will be enrollment time once again. It's time for parents to snatch some moolahs from their pockets once again for their children's education.
This thought is also parallel with the human capital theory that “the economic development of a nation is a function of the quality of its education”. This means that the more and better educated the people, the greater the chances of economic development.
Have you met a person not able to read and write?
We fondly call him Binig. He is a Tiruray, a lumad from the mountains of Maguindanao Province. My father hired him to work for us in our little fruit farm. He stayed at our house and with this; I grabbed the chance of teaching him his ABCs. I tried to explain to him the advantages of literacy and the joys of being able to read. For a week, I taught him (and the pronunciations) of the letters in the alphabet but after a few days, he gave up. He said he doesn’t want to learn anymore. As he said this, I was able to see truth in his eyes. He was ashamed of himself being taught by someone younger than him. He was 27, I was 19.
People like Binig are not so rare in the Philippines. According to the report of the National Statistics Office, two out of ten Filipinos are not functionally literate. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, (where Binig is from), has the lowest rate with 4 out of 10 not able to read and write. This would give you an idea that we are not that literate after all.
The main reason why we have a poor education system is the very low budget allocation. Our education expenditure is only 2.5% of the Gross Domestic Product (2005). Did you know our appropriation’s rank compared to other countries in the world? 158th. And oh, in case you’d want to ask, we’re 12th – in world population.
To give you an idea how small this appropriation is, let’s take the report of Federation of Accrediting Agencies of the Philippines (FAAP) President, Dr. Epitacio Palispis: In 2005, the Philippines spent only about $138 (Php 6,900) per pupil. Compare this to $852 (Php 42,600) in Thailand, $1,582 (79,100 PhP) in Singapore, and $3,728 (Php 186,400) in Japan.
The very low budget results to the underpayment of teachers. (I bet my professors in MSU-IIT, as well as teachers in high school would agree to this). In Singapore, they pay their teachers about Php122,000. Here in the Philippines, the basic salary is Php12,026 (excluding mandatory deductions like GSIS, Pag-ibig, PhilHealth, and witholding tax). That's the reason why we definitely have no summa cum laudes teaching in public schools. There should be a fair compensation that would give way for the competent ones to teach. Good thing many of us teachers still see teaching as a vocation and not a mere profession.
Another problem that arises from our measly budget is the lack of proper facilities in our schools. I believe this to be true for I was educated in public schools. I remember in our high school biology class, a bunch of us would take turns peering what's on the glass slides because of the very few microscopes available. Much of the things instructed were left for us to “imagine” as we can’t learn and experience those first hand. (That's the one and only time I've touched a microscope).
In our high school, I was fortunate to be in the “higher section” as we tend to receive “special treatment and better instruction” from teachers. What I worry is for those belonging to “lower majority sections”. Fifty to sixty students clump to poorly-ventilated rooms there. This sight is not exclusive to our school in South Cotabato. This holds true to the other 14 million youths studying in public schools all over the country.
Schools in the Philippines are also “commercialized”. More and more parents are made to believe that getting their kids in a privately owned school increases the chance of their children to become of top-notch caliber. Enrolling in private schools are very expensive but we can’t blame these parents. Most private schools tend to have superb facilities and comfortable rooms. Especially in the primary and secondary schools, the private school is a better choice for well-off parents not amenable with the 150 to 1 toilet-student ratio in the public schools. Most of the time, a conducive environment offered by private schools, ushers the better learning.
Because of this scenario, our educational system created a “social divide”. Rich people go to private schools while poor people have no choice. As one Filipino columnist wrote “Education has become part of the institutional mechanism that divides the poor and the rich.”
This very social cleavage gave way to a “knowledge gap”. I remember replying to a forum about the elections: “While many of us here on the internet exchange burning ideas about our aspired leaders, we forget the fact that the non-calculating masses still dictate the elections”. Most people in the grassroots fight for Erap, Villar and Aquino where it should have been a fight between Gordon and Gibo. The recent elections should have been a battle of leadership, intent, and platform; but the results have proven that stellar popularity is the masses' determining factor (thirty percent of a hundred actors who run for office won).
With lack of management competencies and systemic corruption, it’s no question why we have a lot of incompetent graduates yearly. While that is already saddening, add the “human capital flight” where our good technically skilled people have gone outside the country for greener pastures. And what is left is a big gap between the rich and the poor. The learned and the dumb.
Our government should focus on education. It is the key for progress. Our educational institutions should be backed up by opportunities to prevent this brain drain as it’s the only way to bridge the large economic gap.
Ito ang kailangan natin nang hindi naman mahiya ang mga estudyanteng nagtapos sa Mababang Paaralan sa Mataas na Bukid.
Author's Note: This article is from my old blog, originally written in 2010.