Category Archives: education

Revisiting Freire

The year, 1998. After a rally in Plaza Miranda, I went to the old Popular Bookstore in Doroteo Jose. That was my first time to visit the famous bookshop. Francisco Nemenzo claimed that during that time, there were only two bookshops in the country: Solidarity and Popular. The latter was more popular among activists and younger intellectuals. The first book I bought in Popular was Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I had my reasons for buying it: The book was cheap; it was relevant for my studies (I was an education student); and it looked (and smelled) like a progressive reading material. After reading the book, I became a fan of Freire’s teachings. I bought three more books written by Freire (Pedagogy for Liberation, Politics of Education, and Pedagogy of the Heart). I borrowed books by authors who were influenced by Freire. My college term papers were dedicated to Freire’s philosophy on education. I still appreciate Freire’s revolutionary outlook on education.

A few years ago, I was asked to share some ideas on Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a classic. Why do you think this is?

It is a text which has become useful in making education a tool for social change. It criticizes the undemocratic tendencies of education philosophies while proposing a truly democratic and revolutionary concept of pedagogy. This book has become a handbook for social workers and educators who are battling inequality in society by arming the people with the language to articulate their problems.

How do these ideas relate to your work in the classroom?

It can be a guide to improve teaching, and more importantly, make teaching a more democratic practice. It can lead to better interaction with students by encouraging the latter to speak out and share their stories which can enhance learning for both the students and teacher. This book inspires the teacher to respect the knowledge possessed by individuals and guides the oppressed on how to struggle for freedom through learning. Finally, this book encourages teachers not to be tools of oppression in a very exploitative society.

What is the justification for a "pedagogy of the oppressed"?

A society such as ours has sanctioned a culture of passivity. But a "pedagogy of the oppressed" can help the oppressed to articulate their oppression and begin to understand social reality and how to change their present condition. This kind of pedagogy advances the cause of humanity by liberating not just the oppressed but also the oppressor.

How do we overcome the contradiction between the oppressors and the oppressed?

There should be reflection on the part of the oppressed and oppressor about their roles in society. One way to achieve this is through dialogic education. People should start engaging in sincere dialogue. However, the vocabulary of the oppressed must be articulated and used in the learning process. Otherwise, they will remain alienated in the struggle for genuine freedom. Through dialogue, the oppressed can express and use the language they use everyday. The oppressed must learn/internalize how to liberate themselves from different forms of oppression. One concrete solution is action guided by understanding or the fusion of theory and practice also known as praxis. This allows the people to give importance to their daily activities since it is integrated and highlighted in the production of knowledge. Through this effort, the oppressor is deprived of means to privilege certain forms of (elite) knowledge.

What is the banking concept of education and how does it become an instrument of oppression?

This refers to the predominant pedagogic method which privileges the power and knowledge possessed by the teacher. Students are viewed as ‘empty’ individuals without any relevant stories or knowledge to share. Teachers ‘deposit’ knowledge to students by monopolizing the teaching process inside the classroom.

Every individual, teacher or student, has a ‘cultural capital’ or a particular worldview which can be shared to the community. But the banking method of education downplays the ability of individuals, especially the oppressed, to articulate their beliefs, culture, knowledge and life stories.

This method presumes that there are individuals who can/must dictate since they are knowledgeable of the things that are essential in life and there are groups of ignorant people who must remain docile and inarticulate since they possess no knowledge of the world.

What is the problem posing concept of education and how does this become an instrument of liberation?

Through dialogue, reflection, questioning, action, and especially through praxis, this type of education can be an instrument of liberation. When individuals begin to realize their oppression, they begin to act. When they begin to use the language that is relevant to their lives, it gives them the power to dare and act decisively.


Drug testing redux

I was a former student leader in the Philippines. Human rights promotion was one of our major advocacies. One particular issue which we campaigned was our opposition to the drug testing proposal of the government. It is unfortunate that the government wants to resurrect this unnecessary measure. Below are some of the statements we published regarding this issue.

Students oppose drug testing in schools (2002)

It is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory.

This was the comment of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) in reference to the "draconian measures" included in the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 signed into law recently by President Arroyo.

Article III section 35 of the new law obliges students in secondary and college levels to undergo drug testing upon recommendation of a faculty or school authority; while section 42 empowers the same school officials in apprehending students suspected of using illegal drugs.

"These provisions may be abused by unpopular school heads and teachers against some of their students whom they may not have a good relationship. The said provisions discriminate against delinquents, emotionally-troubled children, fraternity members, activists, gangsters and other students the school may want to get rid of," warned Raymond Palatino of NUSP.

Palatino also gave an example of working students who often miss classes and look weary, tired and unmotivated inside the classroom can be easily suspected as drug users. Students who slept late because they have to study for their exams and attended classes with drowsy eyes could be accused of being involved with illicit drug trade.

"The law does not give any criteria in judging a student if he/she is a drug user or not. It depends solely on the subjective judgment of school officials and teachers," Palatino added. "Drug testing may lead us to identify a few drug users but there is no doubt we will haul a big number of innocent students who after taking the drug test will have to cope with the stigma of being accused as a drug dependent."

The NUSP is questioning the whole process of requiring students to undergo drug testing saying this is an "infringement of our basic rights guaranteed in the Constitution." The student group will appeal this matter to the Supreme Court.

Palatino also hit back at legislators who promised to omit the said provisions. Palatino said "the Lower House version of the law eliminated drug testing of students and we have the word of Cong. Miguel Zubiri, the principal author of the law, that he will fight for the exclusion of the provisions in the Bicameral meeting. Cong. Zubiri should explain why the law was passed without him giving a fight against the provisions in question."

The NUSP clarifies that students are very eager to join the battle against illegal drug trade and use in the country since it also victimizes their fellow youth "but they are rejecting the regulatory measures proposed by the government which seek to punish the victims instead of running after drug pushers outside the school and preventing drug use in the first place."


Students to question the constitutionality of drug testing before the Supreme Court (2002)

Students opposed to the implementation of drug testing in schools will question Republic Act 9165 or the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 before the Supreme Court next week arguing that Section 36 of Article III is an intrusion to the privacy of individuals.

The National Union of Students of the Philippines will also ask the High Court to stop the Department of Education and the Department of Interior and Local Government from commencing with their plan to conduct the drug tests next month until the matter is resolved by the Court.

The student group said undergoing drug test is a "humiliating experience" for the students and can disturb the learning conditions inside schools. Palatino added it may breed discrimination against students, especially those who have issues against the school administration and faculty.

NUSP is worried that the program may be abused by school authorities who intend to use it against their detractors since schools will be given the freedom on how to conduct tests in their campuses.

NUSP president Raymond Palatino is also questioning the effectiveness of drug testing to curb drug use among the youth saying that the United States which started conducting drug tests in schools in 1998 are already planning to abandon the program since it failed to deter drug use among their students.

A recent study published by the respected Journal of School Health in the US last May revealed that drug use in schools which conducted drug tests is the same with schools that did not implement the program. The US National Institute of Health funded research was done by researchers of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Palatino said the government will only waste precious taxpayers’ money by implementing a program whose scientific validity is being questioned in other countries.

"Scarce education budget must be wisely used. Government resources must be used to buy basic school needs like textbooks, classrooms and facilities and not for the expensive and ineffective drug testing program," Palatino said.

Palatino believes drug testing in schools can be abused by corrupt bureaucrats by signing juicy contracts with monopoly drug testing centers and companies.

The student leader is instead urging Education officials to focus their time and energy in instituting a program that will include drug education in the curriculum of schools.

The NUSP said the government must trust teachers and students that they can deter drug use and can name drug users even without the drug test.

The NUSP clarifies that students are very eager to join the battle against illegal drug trade and use in the country since it also victimizes their fellow youth "but they are rejecting the regulatory measures proposed by the government which seek to punish the victims instead of running after drug pushers outside the school and preventing drug use in the first place."


Position Paper on the Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002

We recognize the complexity and gravity of illicit trade and use of dangerous drugs in the country. Despite laws and programs initiated by the government to curb this social menace, drug trafficking continues to be a major problem that victimizes the poor majority, especially the youth and students.

The failure to solve this problem can explain the obsession of the state to impose regulatory and punitive measures without undertaking serious efforts to prevent drug abuse in the first place.

It is in this context that we view the proposed Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 as another measure that seeks to solve the drug problem but fails to look into the heart of the issue.

Since we represent the youth sector, we take note of provisions in the bill which we believe will have adverse effects on our sector.

1. Article III Section 35 requires a student of secondary and tertiary school to undergo drug testing if a member of the faculty recommends him/her to take the test. This provision is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory. Since no initial evidence is demanded in recommending a student for drug testing, this provision is subject to abuse by teachers who bear a grudge against one of his/her students.

A working student who often miss his/her class and looks weary, tired and unmotivated inside the classroom can be easily suspected as a drug user by an uncritical professor. Students who are bored studying because of poor learning conditions and thus lead an unconventional lifestyle (but not necessarily illegal activities) like wearing tattoos and dyed hairs could be recommended for testing.

We urge our lawmakers to visit our schools and they will realize that this provision will be misused by teachers and school authorities who are fixated with purging the institution with students they normally label as social deviants like delinquents, emotionally-troubled children, fratmen, activists, and gangsters.

2. Section 42 empowers school heads, supervisors, teachers and security officers to apprehend or arrest students found violating the provisions in this bill. Again, this is punitive, arbitrary and discriminatory. What will stop school authorities from using this provision to harass and punish students they deem as nuisance and bad influence in their school like fraternity members and activist organizations? Empowering the armed security officers is dangerous in a hostile school community especially if the school administration is unpopular among students and teachers.

These provisions will not solve the proliferation of illicit drug use in schools. Our efforts should be geared towards ensuring that our youth have access to education and the learning environment must be inspiring and motivating. The best way to banish compelling reasons to use drugs is to reduce poverty and unemployment levels in the country.


The problem with the anti-drug campaign (2004)

We are extremely distressed over the present frenzied campaign of the government against drug trafficking and abuse. While we laud the objective of leading the youth and students away from harm induced by drug addiction, we can’t help but complain that this campaign has led to some unacceptable and deplorable consequences.

From the time the government has named the university belt area in Manila as one of the "hot spots" in its anti-drug war, the academic atmosphere in the country’s university town center was disrupted by the big deployment and presence of police troops in the area. Policemen are dizzyingly visible on every street and nook. They are even manning the entrance gates of schools.

Are we under martial rule? Is this the meaning a strong republic?

Perhaps the government might care to ponder why illegal drugs proliferated in the university belt area despite the constant formidable presence of police in the vicinity, not to mention its proximity to the Western Police District General Headquarters. It would be beneficial to the public if the government would first conduct a morality check and exhaustive re-examination on all police personnel. It would erase doubts that they coddle drug pushers whose illegal products were able to land in the hands of many innocent students.

We are doubting the effectiveness of the iron fist approach of the government to the drug problem because it ensares only the small drug pushers and drug users while drug lords and big suppliers remain free to conduct their illegal business.

The de facto militarization of the university belt does not bode well for the education of the students. It heightens the repressive character of schools located here whose penal-like security measures are anathema to a liberal education. We fear the abnormal enormous police presence in the area compounded by the ever-present security personnel inside schools will soon desensitize and condition the behavior of students to acquiescence and submission. This may be the latent aim of the government in its anti-drug war in the university belt: to control the student population in the place where traditionally the peoples’ protest marches against the government are held.

We suggest two things to solve the drug menace. First, the government must have the political will to arrest, prosecute and punish big time drug lords and their financial and political backers. Second, provide the youth with relevant social services which include quality education, sustained health agenda and a comprehensive sports program to drive them away from the temptation of using illegal drugs.

If we are able to realize these requisites, there will be no more need for the repulsive shame campaign of Mayor Alfredo Lim against suspected small time drug peddlers. At present, the real shame is on the government which deprives its young population of a decent education, life-sustaining activities and a bright future to look forward to.

Related entries:

Get high with drugs
Dirty U-belt

Commercial Fallacy

Links: Thailand’s first snowfall. Internet speed in Vietnam. Cabinet members of Singapore and Malaysia compared.

I got this poem from V. Leni of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines. Salamat.

Brain Drain

The Passage is still open
With brain not brawn
The new currency

I Have witnessed
the best minds of our land
pillaged with impunity

Yet they were not taken in terror
The buccaneers of our age
– The Guggenheims, the Rockefellers
the beatific Fords – are subtler

The slaveships of the past
no longer dot our horizon
Today scholarships suffice
to bait the reluctant

And now contained and silenced
With Dollars and Letters of recognition
The once militant
(ensconced in high professorial chairs)
rationalize their position
with talk of blood-money and vengeance

The shrewd American mantis
allows these poor gifted fools
their illusion of screwing her
Accustomed as she is
to eating their brains
while they tickle her bottom

"Bones and Feathers", Cecil Rajendra, Kuala Lumpur, 1978

Sinulat para sa Tinig noong 2003….

Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health. Drink moderately.

Ang isang pangkaraniwang tagapanood ng TV ay maaaring mabighani ng pantasyang mundong nais likhain sa patalastas ng sigarilyong Fortune o mapaniwala sa pagkakaibigang nabubuo sa pag-inom ng San Miguel Beer subalit sa dulo ng patalastas, at sana’y mapansin ito, ay mababatid niyang hindi ito iniendorso nang buong-buo ng pamahalaan dahil sa masamang idudulot nito sa katawan ng tao. Bagama’t kapos sa sinseridad, kahit paano’y nagagabayan at napoprotektahan ang publiko sa pagpili ng mga produktong bibilhin sa palengke.

Makapangyarihan ang TV sa paghubog ng katotohanan. At kadalasa’y tinatanggap ng madla ang ipinapalabas nito bilang absolutong katotohanan nang walang kritikal na pagsusuri. Kung kaya’t may naiiwan pa akong pagpapahalaga sa mga babala sa mga komersyal bilang minimum na proteksyon sa mga konsumer.

Ganoon na lamang ang laki ng aking pagkabahala sa paglabas ng mga komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan nitong mga nakaraang buwan. Halimbawa, robotics daw ang itinuturo sa isang computer school. Trabaho pagkagraduate ang pangako naman ng isang eskuwelahan. World-class kaliber daw ang mga graduate sa isang pamantasan. Magiging klasmeyt mo si Kristine Hermosa at Juday sa eskuwelahang iniendorso nila.

Hindi ito simpleng paglalahad ng serbisyong inaalok ng mga eskuwelahan; matindi ang panlolokong ginagawa sa kapakanan ng publiko na ikinukubli ng maaamong mukha ng artista, magarbo at tila sopistikadong teknik na ginamit sa patalastas, at ang mismong swabeng epektibidad ng TV sa pagdala ng mensahe sa nakakarami. Pero bago tayo magapalawig dito, kailangang ipaliwanag muna natin ang kahulugan ng pagdami ng komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan.

Una, ito ay tanda ng pagpasok at pagdomina ng malaking negosyo sa sektor ng edukasyon. Hinahalintulad ang edukasyon sa iba pang kalakal na kailangang i-package ng mabuti at ibenta sa publiko batay sa umiiral at persepsyong demand na trabaho. Kung parang kabuteng nagsulputan ang mga computer school noon, ngayon naman ay umuusbong kung saan-saan ang mga caregiver institution dahil ito ang may mataas na demand sa abroad. (Kahit si Amable Aguiluz ng AMA ay itinayo ang St. Augustine para sa paghubog ng mga caregiver).

Pangalawa, ito ay tanda ng desperasyon. Kung tutuusin, hindi problema noon ng mga eskuwelahan ang enrolment. Pangarap ng bawat Pilipino ang makatuntong sa kolehiyo at hindi na kailangang suyuin ang mga kabataan na mag-aral. Subalit dahil sa walang tigil na pagtaas ng matrikula taun-taon, bumulusok nang husto ang enrolment sa malalaking pribadong pamantasan. Idagdag pa ang pagkadismayang idinudulot sa mga kabataan sa nakikita nilang bata-batalyon ng mga nakatapos ng kolehiyo pero wala namang trabaho. Kaya ngayon, sa TV, dyaryo at naglalakihang billboard sa kalye, andyan ang anunsyo ng mga eskuwelahan at ang nilalako nilang tipo ng edukasyon.

Marami ang nabibiktima sa panloloko ng mga eskuwelahan. Enrolment pa lang ay nalulula na ang mga estudyante sa taas ng bayarin. Hinahanap-hanap ang pangakong abanteng pasilidad subalit hindi pala ito pwedeng gamitin ng lahat. Kahit ang kurikulum at eskuwelahan mismo ay hindi pa pala accredited ng CHED. Reklamo sa amin ng mga estudyante sa isang international business school na malaking kabalintunaan diumano ang world-class teaching na inaanunsyo sa TV dahil part time teachers lang ang kinukuha ng eskuwelahan na palaging absent, pagod at hindi marunong magturo. Ang ipinagyayabang na kagyat na trabaho pagkagraduate ay isa palang ilusyon na walang pinagkaiba sa mga komersyal ng axe deodorant.

Dumadaan ba sa screening ang komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan? Kung ang mga patalastas ng gamot ay aprubado muna ng Bureau of Food and Drugs, dapat ganun din sa mga eskuwelahan ng CHED. Libu-libong pera at kinabukasan ng isang kabataan ang nakasalalay sa inaanunsyo ng mga eskuwelahan, tama man o (kadalasan) mali. Dapat pag-isipan ng gobyerno kung paano pangangalagaan ang interes ng publiko. Kailangang ipagbawal – at dapat bigyan ng leksiyon ang mga eskuwelahang tahasang nagsisinungaling sa edukasyong kaya nitong ibigay.

Payag naman kaming ituloy ang pagsahimpapawid ng mga komersyal ng mga eskuwelahan basta’t dapat ilagay sa dulo ang isa sa mga sumusunod na STUDENT WARNING: High tuition fees guaranteed, quality education not inclusive, at contractual employment after graduation assured.

Related entries:

Private and public schools
Turn-off TV
Education and big business

Education for all?

Thank you to all those who attended and supported the Bloggers Kapihan 2.0 last Saturday.

The Philippines is one of the 189 nation states which signed the Millennium Declaration in September 2000. Member states of the United Nations adopted the Millennium Development Goals to affirm their commitment to "reducing poverty and the worst forms of human deprivation" by 2015.

Two of these goals are related to education: Achieving universal primary education and achieving gender parity. This is intended to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education. This also aims to eliminate gender disparity preferably by 2005 and no later than 2015.

The most recent Philippine assessment report in 2005 revealed that these goals for education are the least likely to be attained in contrast to the other MDGs, which were rated with high to medium probability of attainment.

Two of the 17 indicators closely being monitored pertain to the MDGs for education: elementary participation rate and cohort survival rate — meaning the percentage of children who complete their elementary schooling out of those who initially enrolled.

Government statistics show that for the last six years there was a steady increase in total school enrollment, but there was also an increasing proportion of elementary school-age children who remained out of school. In the 2005-2006 school year, almost 65 percent of six-year old children did not begin their primary education on time.

The cohort survival rate was placed at 76 percent in 2001 but it went down to 70 percent last year. The completion rate was 75 percent in 2001 but it also went down to 68 percent last year. The drop-out rate and repetition rate also deteriorated in the last six years.

An independent study by scholars and civil society organizations revealed interesting but disturbing facts. For example, children entering Grade 1 are older than expected. Drop-out rates in Grade 1-3 are highest among "right age kids" while drop-out rates from Grade 5 onwards are highest for "overage kids," especially among the boys. Boys leave school faster than girls. Children who attend pre-school are more likely to finish the full education cycle. As expected, malnutrition was noted as a factor among many who drop out of school.

The Philippine case highlights the need to fine tune the indicators used in measuring the progress report of MDGs for education. Monitoring the number of pupils who come in from grades 1 to 6 and the pupils who leave schools at every grade level are also important. Monitoring quality and accountability is also necessary in reporting the status of primary schooling.

Scholars stress that a child should be able to read by Grade 3 after having finished the universal elementary school period. For Grades 4-6, it is critical to raise the level of functional literacy of the children especially on numeracy, science and reading comprehension.

Educators point out the declining impact of years of low spending on education as manifested by the nominal increases in the annual budget of education agencies relative to the increases in the number of primary school entrants. The budget for the education sector is way below the international benchmark which is set at 18-20 percent of the national budget or about 6 percent of the gross national product.

Education policies need to be reviewed. What happened to the decentralization of the governance of basic education? Can the government clarify and harmonize its language policy especially concerning the use of a child’s native language in the first two grades of basic education?

Policymakers can be asked to pursue the organization of free pre-school as part of the formal ladder of education across the country. Funding support should prioritize disadvantaged schools and those with substantial indigenous populations.

How will the School Feeding Program and other health intervention programs effectively address malnutrition and hunger among school-age kids? Is it really advisable to distribute sacks of rice rather than provide actual food like vegetables and milk in schools? Early this year, opposition politicians warned that the rice distribution program could be used to divert public funds into the election campaign expenses of administration politicians.

Education officials need to account for the missing textbooks and CD teaching materials they should have delivered to remote towns. Corruption remains pervasive in the procurement of learning materials. A mismanaged and underfunded bureaucracy will never produce positive learning outcomes nor achieve the MDGs for education.

Improving education is not just about producing the skilled graduates needed to compete in a globalized economy. It is about fulfilling the basic rights of every individual. Education uplifts human dignity and the capacity to realize every individual’s potential.

The MDGs provide a good framework to gauge the performance of Philippine education. Sadly, the figures validate that basic education remains inequitable and inaccessible, especially for the marginalized sectors of the population. But it is still possible to save Philippine education. Hopefully, the stakeholders and government will realize the impending social catastrophe if the education crisis is not solved in due time.

Related entries:

Modest proposals
Textbooks of malnutrition
Election questions
Gusto rin nilang mag-aral

Sputnik and Philippine education

I’m encountering technical problems in the comment setting of this blog. For your comments, email them to me, Thanks

Last week, the world marked the fiftieth anniversary of the launching of the Soviet-made satellite Sputnik into space. The Sputnik was the first successful attempt of mankind to fly an object into space. It was a milestone during the Cold War era since Soviet Russia was able to prove that it was ahead of the United States in space technology. In short, Sputnik sent shivers of fear among anti-communist nations and at the same time roused the world’s curiosity on space exploration.

Sputnik intensified the space race between the two superpowers of the world. Leaders panicked on how to catch up with the advanced technology of Russia. More importantly, Sputnik triggered an education revolution in the US and elsewhere.

Policymakers blamed the system of education of the US on why it lost to Russia in the bid to conquer space during the 1950s. No less than former US President Eisenhower wrote then: “Educators, parents and students must be continuously stirred up by the defects in our educational system. They must be induced to abandon the educational path that, rather blindly, they have been following as a result of John Dewey’s teachings.”

Dewey was the foremost American educator and philosopher during the first half of the 20th century. He criticized the methods of teaching in schools and successfully required the inclusion of play, vocational studies, work, and leisure in the curriculum. His works became a bible for educators disillusioned by the ravages of industrial ideology over education. Experiments in pedagogies concerned in encouraging the experience of the learner as a first step in learning became widespread.

Of course Eisenhower was wrong to blame Dewey. But the president and military strategists found a convenient scapegoat for America’s failure to send the fist satellite into orbit. The US government used the Sputnik to justify widespread reforms in the education sector. Sputnik suddenly created the high demand for scientists, engineers and technology experts. The US started producing thousands of PhD academicians in weeks.

The obsession to beat the Russians forced US schools to abandon the education reforms proposed by Dewey and other radical philosophers. A decade later, students from major US universities will criticize the undemocratic character of American schools. On the other hand, many insist that the focus given by the government and academe on science, technology and math after the launching of the Sputnik allowed the public to own and enjoy a laptop, cell phone and internet today.

The Sputnik-provoked education reforms in the US inspired Philippine educators and policymakers. Philippine schools have traditionally looked up to the American education system as the most superior in the world. New subjects were introduced in Philippine schools like New Math, New English and New Science.

To put it mildly, these education reforms didn’t work for the Philippines. Aptitude in Math and Science among Filipinos never improved. English language proficiency deteriorated. Sputnik revived America’s leading role in the fields of science and technology but it failed to galvanize Philippine education. What went wrong?

Philippine leaders failed to prioritize funding for science and technology. The public school system suffered from dwindling education subsidies. The Philippine government wanted a country which can produce a Sputnik but didn’t want to invest in science and education.

Philippine educators were correct to use Sputnik to inspire students and young scholars. But they may have exaggerated the effectiveness of adopting the education reforms implemented in the US. During that time, the Philippines could have addressed the basic problems besetting the education system such as lack of school facilities, textbooks and low quality of teaching. What was the significance of New Math, New English and New Science when basic literacy and elementary competencies were more crucial to learn?

The Sputnik-inspired education reforms during the 1950s and early 1960s can teach the Philippine government today to be more prudent as it embarks on an ambitious education initiative called the “Cyber Education Project.” This venture will provide a satellite-based distance learning program across the country. According to education officials, it will solve education imbalances between rural and urban schools.

Noble goals but will this very expensive project really spur high learning outcomes? Is this what the Philippines really need today? Or should money be allocated first to finance school building construction, procurement of learning materials and training of educators?

The cyber education project will not make computers accessible to all students. It is mainly a TV broadcast of lectures given by “master” scholars. This is already being done in some provinces. Many groups warn that aside from being a potential source of corruption, this project will not solve the fundamental deficiencies of Philippine schools

The fiftieth anniversary of Sputnik highlights the backwardness of Philippine education. Majority of Science teachers are not specialists in the subjects they are teaching. Many public schools have neither modern science laboratories nor clean toilets. A few years ago, a science textbook was approved by the government which describes the planet Earth as coconut-shaped.

In the US, there are scientists who are hoping for another “Sputnik” to spark more interest in science and space exploration. The Philippines needs another “Sputnik” too. But hopefully, educators will not be distracted from their primary mission of eradicating illiteracy and lack of basic skills among students.

Related entries:

Education crisis then and now
An afternoon in Deped

PC games, schools and Gloria

Investing in human resources

All out war in southern Philippines, my blog entry for Global Voices. New pictures in my photoblog, click here and here.

Chairman Romulo Neri of the Commission on Higher Education has six months to fix the problems that bedevil the country’s higher education system. This is an impossible task. What will he accomplish in six months? The CHED chairman presides over the Board of Regents of all state universities. CHED provides the regulatory framework which guides more than one thousand higher education institutions.

Stakeholders should protest the absence of continuity in the leadership of education agencies. Malacanang should refrain from treating the education department as recycling machine for loyal politicians or dissident technocrats.

Sec. Neri, who has no doctorate degree, has vowed to consult his detractors. But he didn’t mention whether he will listen to the appeal of students to regulate runaway tuition increases or school owners who want less intervention from CHED.

On the other hand, Sec. Neri was unambiguous in articulating his mission: solve the mismatch between the academe and industry. In short, make college education more relevant and responsive to the needs of a globalizing economy. On many occasions, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has pinpointed the disparity between the quality of college graduates and the manpower requirements of big foreign firms operating in the country. Sec. Neri, a member of the president’s economic team, seems to be the perfect man for this difficult job.

Sec. Neri will be pleasantly surprised to learn that his predecessor has already laid the framework in increasing the competitiveness of the country’s young workforce. Last April, the National Human Resource Conference held at the Manila Hotel identified the constraints which affect productivity and competitiveness of the labor sector. CHED participated in the event and focused on enumerating the hard-to-fill jobs or the “highly demanded and emerging jobs where supply shortages occur”.

CHED identified the lack of competent graduates in the mining sector (geologists, mining engineers, metallurgical engineers), HRM (tour guides, officers for hotel and travel agencies), agribusiness, maritime (marine officers, seafarers), health and wellness (doctors, nurses, therapists and medical tourism), construction (architects and engineers) and cyberservices (animators, programmers, contact center agents, medical transcriptionists, editors). CHED also emphasized the need for scientists and engineers “to conduct research, technology/ knowledge transfer and technology adaptation/ application.

CHED specified the policy gaps which need to be resolved. It blamed the low enrolment in pertinent courses like geology, maritime training, medicine, architecture and engineering; inadequate number of higher education institutions offering programs; limited implementation or coverage of available programs; poor performance of graduates in licensure examinations; mismatch between skills and competency requirements of industry; lack of qualified faculty; outdated learning facilities; inadequate quality assurance system like standards, monitoring, evaluation and certification; and failure to meet international standards.

Mismatch between skills and industry needs was given attention. CHED identified the inadequate ICT skills of students, weak communication skills, lack of proficiency in English language and other foreign languages, eroded work ethics/values and absence of work experience especially in highly specialized jobs. CHED hopes to resolve these competitiveness issues by strengthening linkages between industry and education for continuous upgrading of curricula, improving in-house training on English language and other foreign languages, adding units in ICT and strengthening values formation in curricula.

CHED’s presentation is interesting and reflects the current thrusts of the government. Mining is obviously a top priority of the government. Eco-tourism is now a flagship program of the Department of Tourism. Medical tourism is being promoted yet the basic health needs of poor Filipinos are not addressed. If the country lacks doctors and nurses despite the proliferation of nursing schools, shouldn’t we blame the labor export policy of the government? Training of call center agents is now being offered in state universities. The English language is now the medium of instruction in schools.

If there is a shortage of skilled workers in key industries of the economy, there is need for institutions which will teach vital but unpopular subjects to students. Why then is the government reducing its subsidy for state universities which have the most comprehensive course offering on science and technology? If most private schools cater to the high demand for nurses, state universities, through government support, can continue to produce competent agricultural entrepreneurs, engineers and geologists.

Improving human resources should not focus on teaching students how to speak good English or producing obedient workers. It’s about harnessing the capabilities of the young workforce to serve the actual needs of society. We need doctors and nurses who will serve in the barrios. We need mining engineers whose labor can generate enough revenues for genuine national industrialization. Higher education reforms are necessary to cure the ills of society but Sec. Neri, CHED and the government should not equate compliance to the demands of big foreign firms and foreign nations with competitiveness. It promotes a narrow, twisted and irrational view of development, which by the way has been the dominant economic thinking since the late 1980s.

Related entries:

Global competitiveness
Super cities
Odd man out

Two years ago in Mongster’s Nest: Battle of the streets or why rallies are relevant in Philippine politics. Francis Ford Coppola, my favorite Hollywood director. The UP Student Council during the dark days of Martial Law. Rearing babies in the Philippines. Message after failed impeachment: Forget the elections and To the Streets. Axis of evil: Oil depot, Malacañang and Makati.

Modest proposals

Who are the nominees of Kabataan Partylist? Click here.

I met with political science students last Thursday and I shared some of our legislative proposals. Here is an excerpt of my speech….

Thank you very much for this invitation. Kabataan Partylist does not have a representative in Philippine Congress today, but it aims to succeed in the coming elections, and hopefully, a youth representative will have a seat in the Philippine Congress this July.

So let me now highlight our legislative platform. Our vision and mission statement; and our general program of action can be accessed in our website, I want to be more specific in discussing our election agenda.

For obvious reasons, our platform is all about promoting youth welfare. Education will be our main thrust. We will look into the issue of access, equity, quality and relevance. What are our proposals?

1. Funding allocation for education. We are not asking for the whole national budget. We want to increase the funding for education. Make it 6 percent of our GDP, or 20 percent of our national budget. This is the minimum requirement prescribed by the UNESCO. We have to catch up with other Asian countries in terms of investment for education. There is an automatic appropriation for foreign debt servicing. Why not an automatic appropriation for social services or education? Why not require a certain percentage of each lawmaker’s pork barrel to be earmarked for education purposes?

2. Initially, we want to review the higher education policy of the government since it is geared towards the phasing out of state universities or the reduction of subsidies for public higher education institutions. Then later on we realized that it is already time to have a comprehensive review of the education sector. The last time this was made was in 1992 through the Education Commission. We have to review our education policies:

Tumaas ba ang investment for education tulad ng minungkahi ng Edcom noong 1992?
Nakatulong ba ang paghahati ng sektor ng edukasyon sa tatlong ahensiya: Deped, Ched at Tesda? O nangangailangan ba ng isang ahensiya ng gobyerno na mangangasiwa sa buong larangan ng pag-aaral?
Nakatulong ba ang Restructured Basic Education Curriculum (RBEC) sa pagtatataas ng kalidad ng karunungan?

I think Senator Angara also has this proposal.

3. Our higher education is dominated by the private sector. We have to regulate tuition collection in the country. Ched insists it has no power to run after profiteering schools. Ched claims it cannot stop schools from collecting exorbitant fees. So why not review the law which created Ched and arm it with more authority? Amend Section 42 of Education Act of 1982 which gives schools the freedom to impose the fees they want to charge.

4. We have a market-driven education. Schools offer courses which are popular since employment in other countries is guaranteed. These courses are not necessarily what our domestic economy requires. We are an agricultural nation, we are on the pacific ring of fire, we have the best marine biodiversity in the world. We have to prioritize in our curriculum the advancement of agriculture, science and technology, engineering, marine and geological sciences. Sadly, most of our private schools do not offer these courses. The most popular course today is…nursing.

5. Which brings me to our next proposal. How do encourage our skilled professionals to stay? To be more particular, how do we address the exodus of our health workers? We cannot prevent our people from leaving the country. It is their right. We can only delay their departure. We have to do something drastic, and perhaps implement unpopular measures, about the rising number of migrating health workers. We have a large number of nursing students and fewer young people who want to enter medicine.

Review medical education in the country. Make it more affordable, responsive to community health needs and we support Sen. Ralph Recto’s proposal: Create more PMAs or Philippine Medical Academy.

We support the proposal requiring graduates from public medical and nursing schools to render a compulsory service before leaving the country. The Indonesian model can be adopted. Those who serve in remote villages will be required to stay in the country for one to two years only.

6. Let me cite a few other proposals: include climate change in the curriculum, native language should remain as the medium of instruction, ban junk foods in schools. The Congress wants to ban computer shops near schools. Our position: strike a deal with these shops to augment the lack of computers in our public schools.

We want to review the SK law. We do not want it abolished. I remember a conversation I had with the National Youth Commission chairman and he said there was a proposal to introduce a partylist-like system in the SK. Community youth organizations will be tapped. We need to do more. Integrate the SK members not only in government offices but also among NGOs and other civic groups. Review the monetary compensation of SK officials. Do these young people really need a salary to serve the community?

I cannot articulate all the problems of our society. One day is not enough to cover all these issues. Please help us improve our agenda. We want to hear your proposals. Please visit our website, email us and blog about us.

Related entries:

The doctor is out
Private or public education
Refugee nation

Mareng trapo

In fairness to Ms. Winnie Monsod and UP School of Economics, they have always been consistent in advocating a tuition increase for UP. In fact, there was a similar proposal during my undergraduate years (1996-2000) but this was shelved after it was vigorously protested by students and even national leaders. Aware of the growing opposition in the UP system, Monsod and company are fanatically (and unkindly) criticizing the opposition against the tuition increase plan. In particular, Monsod has been using her columns in the Philippine Daily Inquirer to ridicule student groups at the forefront of the campaign against the tuition hike.

In her column last week, Monsod wrote about the insignificance of the protest rally held by students against the tuition increase. She argued that only 400 out of 25,000 UP Diliman students attended the demonstration. Monsod failed to mention that the rally was supported by student groups, student councils and student publications not only in Diliman but in the whole UP system – from UP Baguio to UP Mindanao.

Monsod should know better that one doesn’t need to mobilize the 25,000 students to show support for a particular cause in UP. During the ‘Estrada Resign’ campaign, before the Chavit expose and when it was not yet popular to chant ‘Erap resign’ in the campus, we were only mobilizing about 100-200 students in front of Oblation. But Monsod never doubted whether UP was really against Estrada. Monsod was even heard on TV and radio talking about how UP really detests the former President.

In the same column, Monsod describes the waving of banners as a waste of time. Yet Monsod was part of the UP contingent which supported a multisectoral rally against suppression of the free press in Ayala in August 1999. She was always present during the anti-Estrada rallies in Mendiola. She even donated food and money in support for the UP delegation. Now she claims rallies contribute to the negative perception of UP.

Perhaps she is really against students participating in street demonstrations. But her political ambition (she is a former senator-wannabe) led her once to show support for mass rallies. Isn’t this a trapo-like quality?

Monsod equated a trapo with intellectual dishonesty and incompetence. She accused the chair of the student council of citing inaccurate information about the UP tuition hike which misleads the public. This coming from an economist (and free market fundamentalist) who indoctrinated generations of leaders that free trade and neoliberal economics are the only solutions to eradicate poverty in the country. And where are we now? It is she, along with her minions who are intellectually dishonest and incompetent. It is Monsod who misleads the public by portraying the UP scholarship program as effective and benign. (It is she who dupes the masa by lending her reputation as scholar in endorsing detergent products.)

Back to the UP tuition issue, the student leader was correct in pointing out that there will be an increase of fees from P300 to P1,000 per unit. The leader was right in arguing that more indigent students will be unable to enter UP.

Monsod debunked this by boasting the UP scholarship program (STFAP) which charges higher fees to richer students while giving stipend to poor students. Since 1989, student groups described the STFAP as a ‘smokescreen’ for tuition increase. This was a very creative form of tuition increase which led to its implementation in all public vocational schools and encouraged in all state universities of the country.

UP STFAP, like all scholarship programs of the government, has failed to prioritize the poor but intelligent students of the land. Remember Julie Albior and Flores Biwang? Topnotchers in the National Achievement Test but were unable to enroll in UP last June since they can’t afford the P300 per unit charged by the university. How many Albior and Biwang will be discouraged to enroll in UP if tuition will be pegged at P1,000 per unit?

UP education must remain accessible to the general public. UP needs more funding from the government. We should discard the US model of higher education and emulate other developed countries which provide heavy subsidies for higher education. There are other sources for funding. Tap the alumni. Pressure the politicians. But don’t pass the financial burden to students.

Higher education is a right. It is a public good. Should we believe institutions like the World Bank which set the framework of discussion that basic/primary education should be the sole focus of governments and not higher education? It is lending institutions like the World Bank which keep on arguing that individuals, and not the State, should pay for higher education.

Related entries:

Private or public education?
Albior and Biwang: Real tragedies of the year

Ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie

I wrote this article for Tinig in 2003. Monsod may look young and fresh on TV (thanks to modern since) but she is a child of the McCarthyist era. She is a (rabid) partisan of the conservative agenda. She is the sanitized and more acceptable female and scholarly version of Raul Gonzales (pardon the comparison, but this is my opinion). Her role is to defend the status quo. What is worrisome is that she portrays an image of objectivity. Scary. But there are times when we have to call things for what they really are. Globalization is imperialism. Arroyo is a puppet. Palparan is a butcher. Monsod is a reactionary economist….

Nang una kong mabasa ang tatlong payo ni Mareng Winnie Monsod sa mga kabataan kung paano babaguin ang lipunan, bigla kong naalala yung sinabi minsan ni Alejandro Lichauco, isa sa mga kakaunting makabayang ekonomista ng bansa, na dapat daw sunugin ang School of Economics ng UP Diliman dahil dito nanggagaling ang mga ekonomistang baliw na baliw sa teorya ni Adam Smith na siyang sanhi ng di-malutas-lutas na krisis sa kabuhayan ng bansa.

Naalala ko ito dahil si Mareng Winnie ay galing sa School of Economics ng UP at may malaking papel sa direksiyon ng pagpaplano ng ekonomiya ng bansa. Bukod dito ay isa siyang sikat at respetadong broadcaster sa TV at radyo. Pinapahalagahan ang kanyang mga komentaryo sa mga usaping pambansa. Hinahangaan ang kanyang katapangan sa paghahayag ng kanyang opinyon at ang kumplikadong isyu ay nagagawa niyang simple para maunawaan ng karaniwang mamamayan.

Subalit sumobra ata ang kasimplehan ng kanyang payo sa mga kabataan. Kung tutuusin, katanggap-tanggap naman ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie. Malaya ang bawat isa na sabihin kung sino ang ayaw niyang kandidato para sa 2004. Walang masama kung maging aktibo tayo sa barangay at sumulat sa mga dyaryo para ireklamo ang mga tiwaling opisyal ng bansa. Ang delikado ay kung sasabihing ito lamang ang kayang gawin ng kabataan para mabago ang lipunan.

Marami ang pumuri sa mga payo ni Mareng Winnie. Marami din akong narinig na mga batikos. Isa sa mga puna ay ang pagkakahon sa potensyal ng kabataan na maging salik sa pagbabago ng lipunan sa balangkas lamang ng eleksiyon. Mukhang nakalimutan ni Mareng Winnie na ang Presidenteng kanyang sinusuportahan ngayon ay naluklok sa puwesto sa pamamagitan ng isang malawak na pag-aalsa ng mamamayan, kabilang na ang kabataan. Kung eleksiyon lamang ang ating inaasahang magbabago sa gobyerno, siguro hanggang ngayon ay tumatawag pa rin si Erap sa Debate ni Mareng Winnie at Pareng Oca mula sa kanyang komportableng posisyon sa Malacanang.

Higit sa paglilimita sa kung ano ang kayang iambag ng kabataan sa pagbabago ng lipunan, inilalako ni Mareng Winnie ang kanyang konsepto ng oryentasyon ng kabataan: bumuboto, aktibo sa barangay at tumatawag o sumusulat sa media. Katatapos lamang ng EDSA2 pero hanggang ngayon ay ayaw pa ring kilalanin ng ilan na ang sumbat nila sa kabataang Pilipino na walang pakialam sa problema ng bansa ay napatunayang mali. Hindi ba’t hindi lamang tayo nagkasya noon sa pag-asa sa barangay o media para mapatalsik si Erap? Tayo ay lumabas mismo ng ating mga paaralan at komunidad para makipagkaisa sa iba’t ibang sektor ng ating lipunan hanggang mawala si Erap sa Malacanang. Kasama natin ang mga manggagawa’t magsasaka sa paghahangad ng pagbabago sa pamumuno, at nagwagi tayo. Napatunayan na nating higit pa sa ipinapayo ni Mareng Winnie ang kayang gawin ng kabataan para mabago ang lipunan.

May isa pang delikadong implikasyon ang payo ni Mareng Winnie tungkol kay FPJ. Hindi ko alam kung sinadya niya ito pero ginawa niyang isyu ng personahe at indibidwal ang isang usaping nakabatay dapat sa mga programa ng isang partido para sa mamamayan. Imbes na hikayating maging kritikal ang mga kabataan sa isyu ng pambansang soberenya, patrimonya at demokrasya para malaman kung sino ang karapat-dapat sa 2004, hinusgahan agad ni Mareng Winnie si FPJ at Lacson batay sa pagiging artista ng una at ang parehong pagiging malapit ng dalawa sa pinatalsik na Pangulong Erap. Sa ganitong pagpapakete ng argumento ay makakatakas si GMA (na suportado ni Mareng Winnie) sa kritikal na paghuhusga ng mamamayan at ng kabataan ayon sa kanyang nagawang kabutihan o kasamaan sa bayan.

Tunay ngang nagagawang simple ni Mareng Winnie ang isang kumplikadong usapin. Pero higit sa lahat, ang isang balikong argumento ay napapalabas niyang lohikal at intelehente. Kung ako ang nagbigay ng mga payong ito, baka kahit sa isang tabloid ay hindi ako pansinin. Pero dahil si Mareng Winnie ang nagsalita, sa front page pa ng Inquirer ito lumabas, kahit sabihin na nating nakakainsulto ang mga payo niya.

Hindi ko alam kung sapat na ba ang mga payo ni Mareng Winnie para maniwala tayong tama si Lichauco na dapat na ngang sunugin ang School of Economics n UP. Ang alam ko lang sa pagkakataong ito ay ikinahihiya kong minsan akong naging estudyante ni Winnie Monsod.

Beyond the nursing brouhaha

Last June, the public was stunned when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo insisted there was no classroom shortage in the country. The media took this opportunity to highlight the deteriorating conditions of our public schools. It helped in convincing more lawmakers to increase the funding for education.

The reported leakage in the nursing board examination, which further tarnished the country’s image, exposed the complicity and ineptitude of some civil servants. But sadly, the discussion has been reduced to whether we should require our new batch of nurses to retake the nursing examination.

We may be missing the opportunity to underscore the fundamental flaw of nursing education, if not Philippine higher education in general: the commercialized character of our schools.

Big business is quietly invading our schools. Profit-oriented institutions dominate the tertiary level taking advantage of every Filipino’s dream to earn a college diploma. Many schools charge exorbitant fees and require graduates to enroll in review centers while giving substandard education.

We may be incensed that cheating took place in the nursing board exam. But why are we not outraged over the low number of board passers? Shouldn’t we be alarmed that many students who hurdled more than fourteen years of schooling and paid excessive fees would fail the ultimate test before they become professionals?

In fact, we are surprised to learn that the passing rate in the board examinations in forty fields is below fifty percent. This is a basic indicator in measuring the quality of learning in the country. Why are schools producing half-baked graduates? Why is the government allowing the proliferation of second-rate schools?

Nursing is just one of the many courses supervised by the Professional Regulation Commission. Are there scams waiting to be exposed in other fields? What is the accountability of higher education officials?

It seems the bankruptcy of Philippine education is not limited to the inferior basic education infrastructure. The nursing scandal must be used to pinpoint the negative repercussions of a market-driven and commercialized education system. Public uproar should be directed as well to the policies of the government promoting the wholesale privatization (read: commodification) of higher education.

Instead of debating the pros and cons of the ‘retake’ or ‘no retake’ position, we should question and rethink the goals, values and practices promoted by our schools. Do they advance the interests of the nation or of profit-seeking school owners? Do they really uphold high standards of academic excellence?

If we fail again to implement substantial education reforms, we will jeopardize our bid to become an industrialized country in the next decade.

Related entries:

Labor as export. Umaalis na ang lahat.
Indian doctors in RP hospitals. Migrating health workers.
When education becomes business. Beware of corporate donors.

Private or public education?

Public education is under attack. The media has been reporting the pitiful state of our public schools. However, instead of pressuring the government to invest more on education, commentators and scholars are batting for the privatization of Philippine education. They question the viability and even the logic of giving free education to our kids. They ridicule the quality of learning in our public schools. They are furious that salaries of our teachers comprise the bulk of spending for education. 

Education funding is now a contentious issue, especially in other countries. There is a debate on whether who should shoulder the burden of financing our schools: the government or the private sector?

Policymakers cite the increasing role of private industry in the management of education in other countries. We are told to adopt the same strategy. But they fail to remind us or even acknowledge that education in most countries has long been a State responsibility. Decades of heavy subsidies for schools – from primary to post-graduate education – has resulted in education systems sustaining the needs of vibrant economies.

On the other hand, the Philippines has one of the worst budget support for education in Asia. It is not true that state universities are crowding out private schools. More than eighty-percent of our colleges are owned by non-sectarian profit-oriented institutions.

The much-heralded superior private education is not entirely accurate. If you think private education in the Philippines is represented by Ateneo, La Salle, Poveda, St. Paul, Miriam or Xavier, then you may be led to believe that public education pales in comparison with its private counterpart. But this is a distortion of reality. The average private school in the Philippines is no better than the ordinary public school in the remotest parts of the country.

Students from both private and public schools have almost the same passing rates in NEAT and NSAT. More than half of college students flunk the board exams. Blame the private schools, where majority of college students are enrolled, for producing substandard graduates. Decades of private-controlled college education did not make the Philippines a rich nation.

Public schools suffer from government neglect. Yes, quality of learning is declining. But it does not follow that private schools are better.

Yet the propaganda continues. Private schools are named as saviors of RP education. The last hope. The better option. The wave of the future.

To a certain extent, I agree that private schools should play a significant part in our education. They are actually playing an important role: they dominate tertiary education in this country. Their contributions in raising the standard of excellence in elementary and high schools should be noted.

But in the end, I will always advocate the strong presence of government in the funding, management and promotion of our schools. A relevant and healthy public education can be the key to progress.

Reading the barrage of commentaries about the supposed advantage of private education led me to worry that education could soon be in the hands of profiteers.

I think the era of free education would soon be over in this country once known as the nation of fifth graders, now the caregiver capital of the world. As early as 1999, studies sponsored by the Asian Development Bank want the free high school education policy to be scrapped.

In 2002 (or 2003?), during our courtesy call with Department of Education Sec. Edilberto de Jesus, he wanted to privatize our schools in elementary and high school. He even suggested that security, not education, should be the priority of the government. He complained that “we have prioritized quantity over quality since 1987,” as one explanation for the pathetic condition of our public schools.

Hail the new generation of bureaucrats and politicians reared in the economic school of thought where government spending for social services is frowned and discouraged.

We may be seeing the last glorious days of the crowded public schools….

Related entries:

Tax religious schools. It’s about time.
When education becomes business. Yes, Pacific Plans is a sister company of Mapua.
Education crisis: then and now. Mukhang walang pinag-iba