What would my education be like if my family were rich?
First, let me get this clear. I do not regret being part of a middle-class family.
In fact, I am more than proud of my mother, who is working hard to sustain my education. My father died when I was still a fetus, and it became my mother’s duty to raise me and my siblings by herself. She is a government worker, so her salary is just enough for our daily meals, household bills and education. It was because of this, I believe, that I did not grow up spoiled and was comfortable with, or considerate of, my family’s financial capacity.
However, recent issues in the Philippine educational system made me ponder on what my education would be like if my family had more financial resources.
I recall that in one of my first classes in high school, our teacher asked who among us had graduated from private schools. More than half of my classmates raised their hands, making me feel insecure. Then we were told to introduce ourselves, and those who raised their hands earlier began dropping big names such as Ateneo, International School, or Montessori, which further lessened my self-confidence. When it was time for the rest of us to introduce ourselves, I humbly stated my name, what I want to be in the future, and the public elementary school I studied in.
Yes, I admit that I have dreamt of studying in a private school. I have heard many well-delivered stories from my cousins about how these schools have better learning facilities and classrooms, clean toilets and colorful armchairs. But my mother sent me to our municipal central school with its small classrooms and 50 students. I was too young then to know exactly why she did so, but apparently, it was because of the costly tuition of the nearest private school and the fact that we could not afford daily transport to it.
For six years in that public school I studied not only academic subjects but notably also gardening, cooking, and even stitching. Our school could barely maintain its classrooms, and it was our practice back then to plow the grounds after classes and plant vegetables, which we later sold to buy cleaning stuff such as brooms and floor wax. During nutrition programs we were usually tasked to cook meals, but because we lacked kitchen equipment, we did it the traditional way—cooking rice in bamboo and using wood chunks for fire. We were also trained in all types of stitches for three years, through the production of aprons, doormats, slippers, and bags. Above all, being at the top of the first section made me study all day and night just to be ready for the Department of Education competitions in math, science, “HeKaSi,” oratory—name it.
These experiences have made me wistful. If my family were rich, I could have studied in a private school. I would not have calluses from tilling the soil, burns from cooking, and needle pricks from sewing. I would have enjoyed my childhood in air-conditioned classrooms without worrying about vegetable seeds, salt and pepper, or beads and threads.
Back to that initial class in high school, our teacher delivered a motivational speech about high school life after all of us had finished introducing ourselves. She told us to exert our best efforts because it would be much different from our grade-school years. True enough, my high school was tough and challenging.
It was tough not because my family had no more money—it was still a public high school, after all—but because the social and academic demands almost pulled me apart. For four years I endured grueling exams, hoping not anymore to top the class but just to pass. We hurdled the most exigent lessons from math to CAT to values education, topped further with a required research project for two years. That research project alone constantly left me exhausted and gave me eye bags.
Sometimes I blamed all my hardships on my loved ones, who insisted that I study in this public high school. It is still vivid to me how they said it would give me the kind of future that would help not only myself but my whole family as well. They said it was simply the best choice. And besides, with everything free in the school, and with college soon to come, who would not want to save ahead?
Again it made me think: If we were rich, my family would not have compelled me to enroll in this high school. I could have chosen another school where exams and lessons are not difficult, where research is not important. I could have enjoyed my high school life beyond the boundaries of academia.
I thank the Almighty for I managed to survive high school and to enter college. Being an avid basketball fan, I had long imagined myself as a college student shouting for the consistent champions of the UAAP, whether green, blue or yellow. More than that, I had always been astonished by their buildings and state-of-the-art facilities. In fact, their campuses can even be considered tourist attractions! But for goodness’ sake, how could I afford their tuition?
Indeed, if my family were rich, I could be studying in the best private schools in the country or even abroad. I could be using eBooks on iPads instead of toting heavy old books. I could be driving my own car to campus, looking cool with my shades, instead of riding a jeepney or tricycle daily. I could be staying in a condo and not in a shared dorm room. But my family is not rich; I had no choice.
Yet fate must have been preparing me all along for great things. If we were rich, I would not have been sent to Pigcawayan Central Elementary School, where I discovered my passion for agriculture, where I learned basic survival skills, and where I found my interest in fabrics. If not for the opportunities it gave me to take part in competitions, I would not have been a national winner in news writing at 10.
If we were rich, I would not have entered the Philippine Science High School, where I enjoyed free books, food, and laundry services, as well as monthly allowances. If not for its demanding research requirements, I would not have been able to develop the Philippines’ first apparel fabric from pandan leaves. I would not have been a national champion in research at 16 and able to represent my country in an all-expense-paid international science fair in the United States. If not for its stringent academic training, I would not have scored above 90 percent in all subjects in the University of the Philippines’ college admission test.
I am now a UP freshman. If we were rich, I would not be here. But I would truly regret not being here because it is here that I realize how important quality education is for financially pressed students like me. We may not have the most advanced services, but I am learning more than enough from my competent and dedicated professors. I may not own high-tech gadgets, but I am happy to be among friends who understand and feel how it is to be financially challenged.
Some things have a greater purpose. You may have been deprived early in life, but in the end you will see that you have much more than others. My family is not rich and, in a sense, I am happy for that. Otherwise, I would be a different person, and I cannot be sure I would be as happy as I am now.
It is a matter of seeing things from another angle, of making the most of what you have.
Elson Ian Nyl Ebreo Galang, 17, is studying agricultural chemistry at UP Los Baños.