At Large

Talking about education

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As I write these words, the verdict of the Senate impeachment court is still being handed down. Sen. Pia Cayetano is speaking at the moment, and the current tally stands at 2-1. From what I have heard so far, Senator Pia seems inclined to find the Chief Justice guilty.

Before I sat down to write this column, I was giving the welcome remarks at a trainers’ meeting for Pilipina members who would conduct orientations for local women leaders on good governance. The training is part of a regional program with the Asociacion Paz y Desarrollo (PyD, or Peace and Development Foundation) and with the Women and Gender Institute (WAGI) of Miriam College, part of a regional program sponsored by the Spanish government.

Even before the meeting began, many of us fretted that the occasion would coincide with the hearing. Suggestions were made to have the opening formalities done with, after which the rest of the proceedings would be suspended so everyone could watch the “show of the moment.” I had an “out,” excusing myself because of my deadline, and just as I boarded my vehicle, the handing of the verdict was just beginning.

Despite the theatrics (Senator Miriam is in full throttle as I write this), despite the legalese, despite the cynicism, the proceedings are proving entertaining and absorbing. It is certainly historic since this is the first time in our history that a Chief Justice has been impeached and tried. But sometimes I wonder what the implications of the outcome—whatever it is—would be on the lives of the unwashed millions who still today struggle for one, let alone three, decent meals a day.

I’m sure the poor are as—if not more—interested in the goings-on at the Senate, thrilled at seeing one of their social and political betters being put before the bar of public opinion. But let them be the judges of what this event means to them, to their lives and to the future of their children. My suspicion is that the outcome would have little bearing on their lives today and in the future, unless Corona’s fate leads to genuine reform.

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Let’s talk instead about an event that happens every year, and which will transpire next week, as hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people troop to schools, colleges and universities for the start of a new school year.

In preparation for this event, leaders of the Philippine Business for Education (PBED), a private-sector-led organization committed to improving public education standards in the country, invited members of the media to a discussion with Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro. More specifically, the get-together was meant to better explain to the media the ramifications of the “K to 12” program that the Department of Education has adopted starting this school year.

The format for the roundtable, as designed by PBED’s Chito Salazar, was informal and free-wheeling, save for some introductory remarks by Luistro. It was a revelation breaking bread with the education secretary, for he was unusually relaxed and open that evening, freely sharing anecdotes and even trading jokes with his dinner companions.

* * *

“More than two years will be added” to the existing number of school years that is required for a student to graduate from high school, said Luistro. The “K to 12” program will actually cover the years from preschool or kindergarten (Luistro said it was intended to cover even early childhood education) to Grade 12, the last two years actually covering the first two years of a basic college education. The last two years, said Luistro, are not required to acquire a high school diploma, but, he reminded his audience, “more jobs will be available to those who finished the additional two years.”

Also part of the entire reform of the educational system initiated by “K to 12” is the strengthening of the “mother tongue” initiative. Most commonly the “mother tongue” program has been described simply as starting with the exclusive use in the classroom of the language most used in a child’s home and environment, only to be supplemented later on with training in the national language (Filipino) and in English.

But Luistro clarified that the “mother tongue” initiative is not just about language, permeating as it does an education in all the basic aspects of life. Teaching in the “mother tongue,” he said, teaches children not just how to form thoughts into words, but how to appreciate the world they see and experience.

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Also present at the dinner were representatives of other private organizations working with government in raising the standards of both public and private education.

One of them was Rapa Lopa, who is working with the Philippine Business for Social Progress in constructing public school buildings especially in far-flung areas where there is a glaring shortfall. In 2010, said Lopa, the total shortfall of classrooms in public schools was placed at 66,800. Currently, that “classroom gap” has been narrowed down to about 50,000. While they are in general guided by the needs as tracked by DepEd, donors are also welcome to build school houses in areas of their choosing.

The PBED has also launched the “One Thousand Teachers Program,” and according to Chair Ramon del Rosario, they have been campaigning among high school students to convince them to take up an education course with the help of tuition scholarships and allowances.

It seems obvious that the educational system needs the support of both government and the private sector, if the next generation is to be more capable in a vastly more complicated world. That was the good news we got in Monday’s dinner: that everybody is linking arms for a better future for our children.

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