Last week's papers stated that approximately twenty-one million kids have gone back to school. More will follow in the days to come.
No wonder the lines leading to the cashier at National Bookstore resembles the queue on the ticket office for a Vic Sotto movie during the MetroManila Filmfest. No wonder there are all these tykes and toddlers running all over the narrow aisles between school supplies, magazines and books, terrorizing their guardians about their stash of goodies needed for the opening day of classes.
No wonder all the parents do not only look tired --- but also bankrupt. I found myself surrounded by screaming hyperactive cubs and zombies passing for mothers and fathers. Amid piles of a variety of pad paper, kaleidoscope of notebooks and boxes of crayons, ballpoint pens and pencils, this is the reality of the month of June in this country.
But this year, things are different in a major way. There was barely any drum roll but for the struggling working class heroes who go through hell and high water to muster enough funds to send their kids to school, the implementation of a Department of Education policy barely understood by the paying public has already sent premature tremors.
The decision to implement the K to 12 program of the Department of Education was met with ambivalence. People didn't exactly know whether to appreciate the Secretary of Education's passionate crusade for a revisionist educational system --- or to dismiss this as yet another attempt at innovation without proper thought or consideration for the reality of economics in this country.
Those who favored the addition of years before a kid can enter college understood the larger context and urgency of the problem. Those who didn't have equally valid reasons to be disgruntled: they felt that they (the parents) were not consulted and that this only meant additional years of scraping the bottom of the instant rice cooker to pay for tuition fees and books.
Well, yes : those who did not understand the benefits of extending schooling by so many more years only saw the immediate impact of the policy to their lives. And indeed, that was cause for alarm.
They would say, "Is it not bad enough that a large percentage of students drop out of school between Grades 1 to 6 then four years of high school? Does it not only increase the odds that Filipino parents will find it all the more difficult to have their children finish all the years required before college?"
May tama ka diyan, Tatang.
Parents who are burdened by daily financial challenges do not even dream of sending their kids to the tertiary level. Lucky are they to even finish high school before they are compelled to give up all dreams of diplomas because they have to help out the family with the daily expenses. In other words, education is not the priority. Survival takes the forefront.
A child of poverty can only get to college if he is resourceful enough to find their own way to fulfill his dreams. A better alternative is to find scholarships for the ones who have the gray matter and the track record to impress foundations and philanthropists willing to take the cudgels for them.
But for the typical Aleng Maria and Mang Pedring, having their eldest child graduate fourth year high school is already more than enough. The term often used to describe the struggle to get a child finish his secondary schooling is iginagapang --- that is, literally crawling and clawing ... and for what? "To be a contractual saleslady or a promodizer at a major department store where she will automatically lose a job after three months?" somebody said, "My God, nowadays --- even the baristas at Starbucks are graduates of Bachelor of Science in Commerce --- and they are now serving lattes and espressos, right?"
You cannot argue with a statement like that because it is true.
Nowadays a high school diploma can only bring you this far because even a college graduate can only go so far as well.
That same friend who was cynical about everything in this country also added, "Whether you finish high school ... or hold a diploma from a dinky college certifying that you are a B.S. Education graduate, the only way for you earn a decent job is to work for a call center. That is the only way he can be assured of earning a minimum of twelve thousand a month ...as compared to what? A nurse in public hospital earning five thousand?"
Despite all my arguments, I knew I had to agree.
There was a time I discovered that one of my housekeepers was actually a graduate of BS Education from a small college in the Visayas. But she would rather work as a maid in Manila because she would earning far much more than being an elementary teacher in a public school in her hometown.
When I found about that, I was so completely devastated. I understood where she was coming from ... but I also began to wonder, "What is happening in this country? Are we really giving that much premium to education compared to other priorities set aside by those who have been elected or appointed to govern and take charge?"
I hope they do. That is what they all say anyway.
I am not against the K to 12 Program pushed relentless by Brother Armin Luistro, he who as now assumed the office of the Secretary of Education.
I see the point clearly: aside from the fact that we are the only nation in the region --- or maybe the world --- who still had four years of high school and even abbreviated the elementary years only until the sixth grade. It is evident that our educational system has addressed the need to speed up studying, to graduate kids fast in order to feed them into the labor force and be of use to their families.
Apparently even that did not work either.
And this is because of reasons cited earlier: Parents working in the fields would rather have their children working beside them helping with chores or taking part of the extensive labor --- rather than to be in a classroom where they hope against hope that something fruitful can come out a chance at literacy.
Even parents in the urban areas realize that they cannot possibly afford the towering expenses to send any if not all of their children to school.
If there is one in the brood who they feel deserves all the support, then the younger siblings will have to stop studying so that the money afforded for education is invested in only one of the children. Of course, this is with the hope that if and when the educated one gets to be a professional or even earn his or her own keep, then it would be his or her obligation to support the family and send the younger siblings to school.
And we revere that as pagsasakripisiyo ng pamilya without realizing that this is symptomatic of a much larger social problem and not a celebration of endearing virtue.
There are two questions on hand that bother me: Do Filipinos still give premium to education? Or do we only see education as a way to claim a certificate to get job as soon as the diploma is handed? In a Third World country still wrestling with the problems of unemployment --- and, despite all these encouraging news that the nation's GNP is growing, growing, growing -- is the diploma still deemed as a necessity to assure a decent, promising life?
Or have we --- out of sheer misery, circumstance or imperative --- stopped viewing knowledge as a guarantee for a good future --- and instead opted for the nitty gritty demands of practicality. How many times have I cringed when I hear comments from kids saying, "Why do I need to study if a diploma only means getting work? Then let me work ... because I can do that without years of college education." Or even worse, "Schooling nowadays is so expensive ... and yet there is no guarantee that if you get that diploma that you can get a decent job."
That way it is easier to understand why young people are dying to be in showbiz ... because of the illusion that media feeds young people that to hit it big in tv and movies is like winning the Grand 6/55 lotto.
If you become a big teen-age star, your house as well as all your belongings get to have a five to six page spread in a movie magazine --- displaying all your signature items and the joys of having a swimming pool cleansed with chlorine --- and you didn't even finish second year high school!
Or another option is to take the practical route. Students agree to whatever their parents want them to pursue for college. After all, he who pays the tuition fee gets to pick the course where that enrollment will be paid.
So are we still surprised why there was this sudden proliferation of nursing schools graduating hundreds of thousands of medical workers whose only dream is to get out of this country and work abroad?
Despite the real interests and choice of pursuit for their careers, parents compelled their children to take up nursing because it was deemed as the most practical degree to take --- since the chances for easier migration are so much better.
Well, yes --- until the bomb dropped. Until the U.S. and other countries were suddenly swamped with foreign nurses so much so that they had to put a lid on the influx because it was already getting out of hand. The result is disastrous from the Filipinos who are fresh graduates of nursing: there is absolutely no place to go to.
Two years of training and experience are required before a nurse can be considered for her foreign application of work permit. But there are not enough hospitals in this country to accommodate all these nurses begging for training. So now hospitals are charging training fees so that nurses can labor for hours without pay (since they are the ones doing the paying). And maybe more ironic is that nursing graduates end up working for the Philippine National Police just in order for them to find a job.
After the frenzy to become nurses, now everybody wants to take up Hotel and Restaurant Management or the Culinary Arts. Everyone wants to stand behind the Front desk of a hotel in Dubai or Abu Dhabi --- or work in its kitchen. Nursing is definitely OUT --- so bring in the chefs.
The second question that bothers me involves the whole system of education: Has the quality of public schools so deteriorated so much so that tests indicate the dismal performance of students in literacy and mathematics? What brought about this decay in curricula or even in the quality of teaching?
Why should we be surprised? In this country, who still wants to be a teacher? All the best minds do not even dream of taking up a Bachelor's Degree in Education. Take it from the mouths of their parents: Walang yumayaman na titser. Why take a college course that assures you of a humble life, devoid of all possibilities of hitting it big as a kazillionaire or even make a decent living to afford little luxuries in life?
Teaching is said to be a vocation ... but definitely a priest leads a more comfortable life. A priest doesn't have to correct papers, make lesson plans and act as a poll watcher during elections.
And a priest has free board and lodging ... which is not what you can say about teachers.
It goes without saying that if the best brains cannot be enticed to choose education as their profession ... or, worse, if the best teachers in our country join the exodus to find a better future in a different time zone, then what happens to the beacons of our classrooms? Who takes care of the minds of the young ... to inspire them to be so much more than the generation that came ahead? Who provides them with role models and choices of directions to take for their tomorrows?
Who tells them that indeed ... there is tomorrow ...and it is one that should not be faced with mere resignation but with the fire of challenge?
This is what makes the situation all too sad.
It is not a matter of two, three or four more years added to the schooling of the Filipino child that makes a whole lot of difference. It is the attitude. It is the discipline. It is the respect for teachers.
It is the passion and hunger for education that has become so seemingly lacking.