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An Education Tsunami


A veritable human tsunami is set to overwhelm the public school sector when the new school year starts next week.  A tidal wave of an incredible two million Filipino children are enrolled for the first time in the kindergarten grade.  The kindergarten is a new addition to a supposedly beefed up elementary program of public schools designed to bring the nation's education system equal to international standard.

But will it, especially since no additional facilities and teachers have been put in place to accommodate this horde of students?  What the media have been reporting is of public school personnel frantically dividing up classrooms, adding sections and plotting class hours to cope with the coming enrolment flood. 

With the further overstretching of public schools' famously strained logistics and human resources, the K-12 novelty could instead end up worsening public education's current dismal dropout rate, wherein only one out of 10 Grade I pupils gets to complete a tertiary program.  This fact can only mean that there are millions of out of school youths  who today are facing a desperate and dark future, forming a kind of social implosion that can wreck any hope of the nation overcoming its massive poverty now or in the future.   So, the only positive thing about the newfangled kindergarten is that for many of the poor pupils, it means a few hours of daily escape from their poverty at home to the blissful company of their class- and playmates.  For the teachers, it will mean more classes wherein to sell their home-made longaniza, candies and other delicacies. 

To make things worse, many more students are expected to transfer to public schools this year as a result of the increased tuition fees by private schools as well as the rising cost of living.

For a long time now, Philippine public education has been rated as among the worst in our corner of the international region. Neighboring countries have been investing far more money in educating their people than has the Philippines - and as a result they have enjoyed the outstanding economic growth and prosperity that have eluded us.  Instead, our dropouts and poor-quality high school and college graduates have made the Philippines the world's major supplier of foreign domestic helpers/servants, not to mention trafficked girls.  This is not very flattering.  One may add parenthetically that our reluctance or failure to give proper shelter and care to the ubiquitous homeless children and families littering public places reflects a breakdown of collective self-respect and common dignity.

Like a few other things about our nation, our education system was once upon a time the envy of the developing world, but bad politics and governance of recent decades have ruined everything.   But if only because optimism is always the better option, let's venture to say that the foundations of that better past are probably still there, visibly holding up our creaking institutions, only waiting  for a few good men and women to turn things around once more.

During the election campaign period last year, education activists bandied an education reform program which won the support and endorsement of presidential aspirant and eventual victor Noynoy Aquino.  Except for the K-12, nothing has since been heard about those plans.  The Philippine Daily Inquirer the other day said in its editorial that the Aquino administration is showing signs of bursting at the seams.  Well, let's hope it will be for having too much of the good things.  Or, again, it won’t hurt to remain incorrigibly optimistic about the future, would it?  (Peace Advocates Zamboanga)


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