Education only ticket out of poverty

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Yesterday’s school opening was duly reported by all newspapers, with focus on the problems: Lack of classrooms, lack of teachers, and lack of books and teaching materials.

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There was chaos in all public schools all over the country, but that was only the beginning. A great number of children, adolescents, and young adults are not enrolled yet. Once they are able to buy the school uniforms, notebooks and pad papers, pens and pencils, and what have you—a major hurdle for the poor—they too will troop to the schools and seek admission.

No surprise here. The poor will do everything to get an education. It is their only ticket out of their miserable life.

The Department of Education (DepEd) expects some 20.8 million enrollees this year, a quarter of the country’s population. However you look at it, the number is enormous, but Education Secretary Armin Luistro, bless his bureaucratic soul, assures us no child will be turned down despite the paucity of resources.

DepEd seems to operate on autopilot every start of the school year. It’s not the fault of Education officials really. If there is somebody or something to blame it is the leaders at the highest level of government.

So far more than 19,000 classrooms have been constructed, but that is not nearly enough.We don’t know how many of the more than 60,000 vacant teaching slots have been filled, but the fact remains that the system still falls short of the requirement. Plans are in the works for more school buildings and more teachers next year, but there will be more enrollees by then.

It will thus take some time for the government to achieve the ideal student-classroom-teacher ratio, if ever.

The problem becomes more acute with the implementation this year of the K-to-12 system of education.

Under the law signed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd in May, it is now 12 years of basic education instead of 10, and kindergarten has become mandatory rather than optional.

There will be 1.78 million enrollees in kindergarten, 13.3 million in elementary, and 2.7 million in high school.

The great majority of these enrollees reflect the economic status of their parents. They are either poor—some very poor—or they belong to the lower middle class. Otherwise, they would be in private schools.

We do not wish to denigrate the quality of teaching in public schools, but the fact that government officials, elected and appointed, send their children to private educational institutions is proof enough. By the way the officials referred to include DepEd executives.

That may be the reason why the government doesn’t find the improvement of the school system—the construction of more classrooms, hiring of more teachers, and the purchase of books and learning materials—a top priority.

But to give credit where credit is due, this government is doing its level best. And it is succeeding, but only to a point. There is a great backlog to fill, and its best may not be good enough.

Then there is the structural reform that must be taken into account. There is need to change the high school curriculum to reflect present realities. Not everyone in high school plans to go to college. Indeed a good number will even drop out, so wouldn’t it be a good idea to prepare these children for work early in life?

Those who have the aptitude must be given the opportunity to go to college. They won’t be able to get to Ivy-league schools—that’s for the elite—but the doors to the so-called state universities and colleges or SUCs should be thrown wide open.

Given half a chance, even the poorest of the poor can shine in college. There is no inherent difference in brain potential between them and the children of the rich. If anything, they are more driven and more ambitious than those born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

The government should increase the SUCs’ budgetary allocations. These institutions of higher learning need a bigger budget if they are to accommodate more enrollees, hire qualified professors and instructors, and purchase tools and laboratory equipment.

As for the students, financial assistance in the form of grants and loans should be made available so that they can pursue their studies without worrying about the tuition fees, the cost of books, and other expenses.

A number of winning candidates for senator—and we assume for congressman too—campaigned on the platform of making affordable and quality education accessible to young people. Maybe they can sign away their pork barrel to the SUCs instead of financing basketball courts and waiting sheds and other projects of dubious utility to the community.

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