Mar 28, 2010

A Tale of Three Students

(Writer's note: This is my piece for Kabataan's Blog Action Day for quality and accessible education. For more information on Kabataan partylist, please visit www.kabataanpartylist.com)


Who is the Filipino student?

These are all based on real stories, taken from the people I've interacted with as a volunteer in various organizations. These are all reflections of the state of Philippine education - low budgets, bad governance, poor development planning, elitist perspectives.

So, who IS the Filipino student?

Is it the grade school student who walks to school for an hour each day, every morning? Who sits down on a creaking chair in a dilapidated, musty classroom the size of a small bedroom with about forty-nine other emaciated kids? Who must share a tattered book with six other children and a pencil with one other? Whose teachers thought would stand a chance at the school's quiz bee, only to not show up when he fell sick due to an sickness he contracted while gathering trash in their neighborhood?

Is it the young girl held in contempt by her teachers in her high school for working as a sex worker in a seedy back-road bar at nighttime, and then falling asleep in class during the day? Is it this girl who pays for her siblings' tuition, materials and nutrition because of their school's lack of support programs for youngsters?

Is it the college student who, after seeing how much the state had failed to fulfill its duties - and in fact, actively shifted those burdens to the student body - decided to join progressive student movements, participate in forums and demonstrations, and eventually run for a seat at the student council? Is it this person who was detained more than once, fighting for the right of allies and critics alike to accessible and quality education?

I suppose that any one of them is a Filipino student. But my country's leaders think otherwise.

Other opinions, other perspectives

"No," says the councilman, "that boy is a vagrant - a smelly, filthy ruffian fit to live among mice and dogs! He will not gain anything from a better school - he would only scribble on the seats, break the windows, and cost us more money to feed"

"No," says the governor, "that girl is a prostitute - one who has sold her dignity with shameless disregard to the values and norms of this great nation! How would subsidizing her siblings' education benefit her, or us, even?"

"No," says the president, "that student is a communist - a rebel! See how he goes about marching in the streets, uttering vile words against my mandates! Educating them further would only make them haughty and bold. To think that they actually think that they can change the world?"

Aye, these are the perspectives of those grasping firmly onto power. These are the perspectives of those who believe that it is the rich, the powerful, the gifted, the conformist and the few who are worthy of any form of education that leads to empowerment. The rest, they believe, are worthy of no more than an education that teaches one to count and spell their own names (for indeed, how is one to sign a contract with the devil without knowing how to spell one's own name?).

These are the perspectives that many are learning to shrug off. Recently, students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, one of the few truly accessible State Universities left in the Philippines, rose up against a proposed tuition fee increase (from Php 12/unit to Php 200/unit) for incoming freshman students. This marked concern to maintain the mass-oriented nature of PUP from the present student body, as well as the involvement of outside organizations, caused the Commission for Higher Education to pledge to maintain the Php 12/unit tuition fee that current students enjoy at this time. And indeed, as enrollment for this school year begins for PUP freshmen, we must note that they all are paying the same equitable fees that they deserve.

Yet apathy and indifference remain. Many segments of the youth still choose to ignore the coming storm. In contrast to the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune, where the majority recognized the role that universal education has on the nation's development, today I am hard-pressed to find people who would take a solid stance against the commercialization and exclusive nature of education. I am indeed sad to say that some of my batchmates from the Philippine Science High School acted ambivalently towards the issue of this year's proposed TOFI in PUP and the 2006 TOFI in UP. This bodes ill for the fate of the PSHS, itself a government funded institution, which has recently seen seasoned teachers leave for greener pastures due to poor salaries (and which in fact caused a number of employees to picket a few years ago).

I now challenge my fellow students, especially those who call themselves "Iskolar ng Bayan". Will you live up to the title invested upon you by the nation, whose citizenry entrusted you with the hopes and dreams of their children, or will you deny them that right to enjoy the same rights as you do today?

The answer is in your hands.

Epilogue

As all stories are spun, so must they end. The kid grew up to be a beggar who resides in Rizal Park, where I had the chance to interview him. I never found out what happened to the girl from Marikina, where I suppose she still has to sell her flesh in order to pay for her and her sibling's schooling. At the same time, her mother works in the same industry to pay the bills. I lost track of the college student some time ago - a good friend of mine whose efforts I will say are not lost to me.

Shall I permit stories like these to recur throughout my lifetime?

Not while I'm still alive.

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