The problems of quality education

Published by rudy Date posted on April 5, 2009

With classes already ended in most schools, the next and last important function of the present school year is the commencement exercises. This used to be reserved only for the graduating students, but the ceremony is now performed on all scholastic levels, from the postgraduate, collegiate, secondary, intermediate, primary, and even the preparatory for the toga-ed tots with their nursing bottles.

Article XV, Sec. 1 of the Constitution provides that “the State shall provide and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” This is one of the pipe dreams of the framers who should have known that, like social justice, government transparency and other fantasies, it belonged to the wonderful Land of Oz.

Today, worse than at any other period in our republic, our literacy record is no longer one of the proud achievements of our country. As a boy during the American regime here, I took it for granted that the farmer or laborer could read and write, and manage an ordinary conversation in English even with foreigners. The old Thomasites would call it “carabao English,” but at least it was better than the grammar of the yokels in Arkansas.

You could talk before to any “cochero” [coachman] anywhere in the country, and in English too, and you would be understood. But recently, when I asked a carpenter to list down the materials he needed for some repairs in my house, he deftly made me do the writing instead as he dictated. The old man, for all his expertise with his tools, was helpless with an ordinary pencil. It made me wonder how he could have managed with his deficiency, given his age and the people he dealt with who knew how to read and write.

The Constitution also requires the State to “establish and maintain a system of free public education in the elementary and high school levels. Without limiting the natural right of parents to rear their children, elementary education is compulsory for children of school age.”

My concept of “free public education” is illustrated by that photograph once published in this paper of a group of rustic children studying in the grass under a spreading mango tree. No chairs or desks, no blackboards, and no umbrellas in case of rain in the absent classroom.

As for compulsory elementary education for children of school age, do we have truant officers in this country? There must be hundreds of thousands of such children who should be in school but are pursuing other activities not necessarily lawful. The greater tragedy is shared by the unfortunate ones who hope to build better lives for themselves through education but cannot enjoy this benefit because they have to help their families earn a living.

Education in this country is mostly for the privileged, and also the less privileged. It has become a status symbol. One does not enroll his children in the public schools because people might think he cannot afford the private schools. This vanity may even extend to post-graduate studies abroad where the mediocre scion is sent to an also tolerable college whose policy is to pass all paying foreign students. He will be returning home with his bought academic titles and be respectfully welcomed for his foreign entitlements.

The obvious weakness of education in this country is that everyone can enter college provided he can pay the tuition and other fees. Aptitude should be the controlling criterion for enrollment but is not even required in many cases. In Department of Education vs. San Diego, 180 SCRA 533, a person who had failed as many as five times the entrance test for admission to a medical school challenged it as oppressive. In sustaining the test, the Supreme Court said:

“While every person is entitled to aspire to be a doctor, he does not have a constitutional right to be a doctor. This is true of any other calling in which the public interest is involved; and the closer the link, the longer the bridge to one’s ambitions…. A person cannot insist on being a physician if he will be a menace to his patients. If one who wants to be a lawyer will prove better as a plumber, he should be so advised. Of course, he may not be forced to be a plumber but on the other hand he may not force his entry into the bar.”

I cannot resist telling that old joke about the woman who called her grandchild Diploma. “We sold two carabaos so our daughter could earn a degree,” she said. “She came back instead with child, and that’s her Diploma.”

There are millions of our dispossessed countrymen who are deprived of the right to quality education for the mythical excuse of lack of funds, which are heartlessly squandered by the government for personal extravagances and affectations. A good example is the junkets of privileged officials, not excluding the President of the Philippines, where hundreds of millions of pesos are wasted when they could be put to better use for improving the quality of public education in this country.

The commencement exercises mostly scheduled this month will increase the unemployment figures, which have swelled all over the world. How will the new batch of graduates fare in the face of the global recession? –Isagani A. Cruz, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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