I grew up in a far-flung community of Cabitan, a small barrio in the municipality of Mandaon, province of Masbate, Philippines. It was in the 1990s when I first stepped onto the school grounds where I, as a child innocent to the realities of life, would walk more than two kilometers to attend schooling in a public elementary school. Our grade one class then was comprised of around thirty (30) to forty (40) bright boys and girls, all with high hopes and enthusiasm listening to their teachers’ lessons; all were eager to learn new things outside of the comforts of their respective homes. I could vividly recall how our classroom set up was, with nearly ruined long chairs accommodating three to five pupils, dilapidated rooms and school equipment lacking the needed rehabilitation, instructional materials coming from the teachers’ pockets and pupils’ contribution – typical of public schools at that time.
In high school, I encountered the same scenario. Classrooms were crowded by forty to fifty students. Some rooms were even higher and sometimes, students had to maximize the school grounds under the shades of trees. I also observed a similar pattern on how classrooms were built. They were made up of woods, only the floors were cemented. When a heavy downpour hits the area, our schools would be badly affected. There were classrooms of high caliber though, constructed out of aid and assistance from other entities like the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). These structures were more advanced then, equipped with laboratory and teaching paraphernalia for both students and teachers. Computers were also introduced but for a limited slot.
When I entered a public university, I started asking whether the public education system in the Philippines was long neglected by the state. With an annual population growth rate of almost 2 per cent, the Philippines is one of the highest in Asia along with India, Indonesia and Pakistan. As more children are born everyday, does the government make any scientific projection as to how many Filipinos would reach grade school every year? This would somehow give an idea on how many classrooms would be built in every cities and municipalities every year. And how many teachers and faculty staff would be hired to sustain a quality public education in the country.
Public education in the Philippines has long been neglected by the government. The Philippines spent for education only about 2.3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP gives an indication of how a country prioritizes education in relation to its overall allocation of resources. Though the Philippines Government allocates the biggest bulk of budget for education as mandated by the Constitution, the amount is still far below the standard of at least six per cent of the GDP prescribed by the United Nations.
This reality obviously brings several challenges to the education sector. One, classroom shortage is evident in many public schools in the Philippines. Classroom to student ratio is increasing every year. Worse, there are remaining towns which do not have elementary schools. Two, teacher shortage is also of paramount concern. Teacher to student ratio is getting higher every school year. Obviously, teachers accommodate forty to sixty students per subject in a classroom, not to mention the number of subjects they teach and workload they have. Three, instructional materials are sacrificed due to tight public finances. Students rely on borrowing or sharing books, or using old ones. Book-to-student ratio has not actually been addressed by competent authorities. Many public schools likewise do not even have access to the world wide web. Fourth, latest technological innovation for education is still an elusive dream to many public schools and students. Fifth, public schools especially State Colleges and Universities (SCUs) are forced to shut down or merge with other schools at the expense of the public.
Where then is the education sector, particularly the public education, in the Philippine Development Agenda?
Collective action for education
If there was one thing I could change to improve education in the Philippines, that would be by reforming the mindset of our leaders and policy makers towards investing on Philippine public education system, with the other sectors calling for a total reform of the educational system in the country. I believe in the power of collective action to influence our leaders and policy-makers. In the University of the Philippines, as students then, we always fought for a higher state subsidy for education. Our call for the government was to prioritize education and other basic social services of the Filipinos in spending public funds.
Nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented
We highlighted the need of the Filipinos for a nationalist, scientific, and mass-oriented education that would definitely serve the interests and welfare of the Philippine society.
Why nationalist education? By going back to basics of nationalism and patriotism, the Philippine educational system will be framed and anchored primarily on the tenets of loving the country and the Filipino people. Before a student gets to the wonders of foreign sources and promises, he must have understood his own country of origin, the colorful history of its people, the great talents and skills of its human resources, and the ideals of its founding fathers.
Why scientific education? Education must be scientific in order to grasp the concrete conditions of the whole educational system and the Philippine society. By going through the labyrinth of analysis based on concrete conditions, our students will have real opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge based on the concrete needs of their respective communities. Their methods and strategies would not be alien but, as properly laid down, would be applicable to a developing country like the Philippines.
Why mass-oriented education? In a society where majority of its population belong to the marginalized and vulnerable sectors, a mass-oriented perspective must serve the populace better. Education must be geared towards serving the Filipino people and the Philippine society. The orientation is to think globally, but to act locally.
Putting these orientations into context, the Philippine educational system will surely be able to address the existing shortage in classrooms, teachers, books, computers, and other basic needs of the education sector. Students would no longer walk a mile to attend classes in a nearby town, share books or computers with classmates, attend classes under a tree or inside a dilapidated room, shell out a penny in acquiring teaching materials.
There would be enough teachers, instructors and professors who are well-equipped with the necessary trainings, education and know-how to impart to their students. There would be countless opportunities for poor but deserving young men and women to have a quality and competitive public education because education is affordable, if not totally free. Scholarships and grants are flowing for all. Education would be really for all, whatever economic standing one has in life.