OVER the past couple years, the strident resistance from many quarters to the expansion of basic education into the “K-to-12” program has almost entirely been based on economic concerns, foremost among those the added financial burden two additional years of schooling for their children will place on families.
To be clear, we stand firmly in support of K-to-12. Any financial issues are practical problems that can be resolved, and the value of having better-educated, more productive young people vastly outweighs the costs.
Nevertheless, worries about affordability for families with children in the public school system cannot simply be dismissed, because as many readers have complained, creeping costs in public school programs are already putting many parents in a bind, forcing them at times to make a discouraging choice between sacrificing their children’s educational experience, or foregoing some basic household necessities.
These added costs are associated with a wide variety of school activities, everything from the costs of materials for homework projects and other classroom projects, to classroom fixtures (such as electric fans), to extracurricular activities such as pageants, sports, or academic competitions. For things that parents perceive as being directly related to learning – books and school supplies, or things like proper desks and fans to provide more comfortable classrooms for their kids – virtually every parent is quick to express a willingness to contribute, even if it poses a bit of a hardship.
The choice to be left out
What they balk at, however, are things that do not seem to be strictly necessary. Some examples noted were costumes for the annual “Wika ng Pilipinas” school pageant, high fees for school outings, “team t-shirts” for academic competitions in spelling, math, or science, “contributions” for graduation programs, and perhaps most dubiously, an athletic competition being held in a large number of schools and sponsored by Milo (a brand of the corporate giant Nestle), which required an entry fee of a couple hundred pesos per student and for which the prize is a chance to be in a TV commercial for Milo.
If you’re poor, you have the choice to be left out
When we pointed out to one school administrator that the DepEd routinely admonishes schools to forgo extravagance and keep expenses for activities at a reasonable level, the administrator explained that most of the activities are optional – if the child’s parents cannot afford it, he or she does not have to participate – and that in most cases, if a child really wanted to take part but was unable for the simple reason that he or she couldn’t afford to buy a t-shirt, the school would of course not require it.
That is not a very good answer, because it still leaves lower-income students in the position of either foregoing activities that enrich their educational experience, or being stigmatized for being “different” than their peers through something as silly as not having the same shirt as the rest of the team.
Disregarding social level
Does having a matching t-shirt make a child a better student, or perform better in a spelling contest? Is it necessary to charter air-conditioned buses to travel a few kilometers to a field trip destination? Does paying to participate in an extended audition for a TV commercial really build intellectual fundamentals?
We don’t think so. And while we would certainly not presume to speak for Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, having met the man and watched his admirable performance as an administrator for several years, we doubt he would think so, either. Our public schools need to be reminded – again – that their duty is to provide the best educational experience possible to all students, regardless of social level, and not serve as fee-collecting agencies.