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Taking a stand for teachers

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The longest celebration of World Teachers’ Day is perhaps in the Philippines. Since 2008, Filipinos have been observing a National Teachers’ Month from Sept. 5 to Oct. 5 yearly through a nationwide advocacy campaign that highlights the unique role of teachers in educating our children and the youth. Later, I shall share with you how the Metrobank Foundation, together with key stakeholders from the government, business, civil society, and the media, has institutionalized this pioneering endeavor, and how these help elevate the status of teachers in our country.

Data from the Unesco Institute for Statistics reveal that, at 97.75 percent, the Philippines has one of the highest literacy rates in Asia and in the world. This is a reflection of the attitude of Filipinos toward education. Young Filipinos dream of a college degree to increase their chances of helping their respective families attain financial and economic independence. However, access to quality education remains a challenge, especially among the marginalized. The government has consistently exerted efforts to address this and similar issues concerning the education system (i.e., shortage of classrooms, teaching materials and textbooks). However, certain resources are still required. It is in this context that private-sector engagement in public education has become increasingly important in developing nations like the Philippines.

Over the years, our business community has directed its corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs toward tackling critical gaps in the sector with interventions ranging from advocacy campaigns for much-needed reforms to direct investments in academic institutions. As one of the biggest corporate foundations in the Philippines, Metrobank Foundation has been actively involved in advocacies and programs to advance education. Our flagship undertaking focuses on the single most important component of education: our teachers.

Established in 1984, the Metrobank Foundation’s Search for Outstanding Teachers (SOT) seeks to promote a culture of excellence in the teaching profession by recognizing the country’s best mentors. During that turbulent period of political and economic instability, Metrobank founder and Group Chair Dr. George S. K. Ty was disheartened to see teachers among those who were marching in the streets for better work conditions. He responded by conceiving an awards program, coupled with financial incentives, that would honor the dignity of teachers and extol teaching as a noble and rewarding profession.

Today, 28 years later, the SOT is the most prestigious award-giving body for Filipino educators. It has recognized and rewarded more than 300 mentors for outstanding competence, remarkable dedication to their work, and effective educational leadership.

The National Teachers’ Month is an initiative to reaffirm the essential role of teachers in mentoring the Filipino youth. It was conceived by Education Secretary Br. Armin Luistro, FSC, then De La Salle University president, who approached the Metrobank Foundation with the idea of a monthlong observation to heighten public consciousness of and participation in the annual World Teachers’ Day on Oct. 5.

The campaign has since become a nationwide multisectoral movement aimed at fostering the growth and development of the teaching profession by recognizing the invaluable contribution of Filipino teachers to the country.

Our celebration started with the awarding of the Metrobank Outstanding Teachers on Sept. 5 and culminated on World Teachers’ Day. During the month, programs were simultaneously held in sports arenas, shopping malls, churches, offices and public gyms, in addition to schools and colleges nationwide. There were special promotions and discounts offered exclusively for teachers in commercial establishments and fast-food restaurants. TV stations also aired features on these reliable and dedicated public servants, among many other initiatives.

How do the National Teachers’ Month and the SOT contribute to elevating the status of teachers and of the teaching profession in the Philippines?

These nationwide activities seek to bestow upon teachers the honor and recognition that they deserve. Through inspiring stories in the social media, TV shows, radio programs and newspapers and magazines, the SOT and the National Teachers’ Month serve to raise teachers’ morale and empower them to effectively carry out their duty, and, ultimately, gain the trust and confidence of the community.

On the other hand, the original Teachers’ Month Campaign has now become a nationwide movement to celebrate the selfless service and heroism of Filipino teachers with the issuance of Presidential Proclamation 242 by President Aquino “declaring the period from 5 September to 5 October of every year as National Teachers’ Month.”

While we take pride in the humble progress of these endeavors, there is still much to accomplish. We believe that much is expected of us because we have been able to mobilize the community to take a positive stand for teachers. In the years ahead, we need to deepen the commitment of major stakeholders to push for a greater appreciation of the sacrifices of our teachers. We need to intensify our communications campaign to constantly remind every sector of the critical role of teachers in society.

Aniceto M. Sobrepeña is president of the Metrobank Foundation Philippines. This piece contains excerpts of a speech he delivered on Oct. 5 at the Unesco headquarters in Paris.


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