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Commentary

Teachers aren’t heroes

/ 05:22 AM October 05, 2018

By virtue of Malacañang’s Proclamation No. 242 in 2011, there has been the annual tradition of rehashing the line “My Teacher, My Hero” every Oct. 5. But try as the government might, no message about teachers could be stronger than confining their concerns and wages to mere locker room talk for the President’s men, while the salaries of the police and the military double in just a snap of President Duterte’s fingers.

Over the past week in martial law Mindanao, President Duterte visited us here in Caraga to handsomely reward soldiers fighting the New People’s Army (NPA). One—just one—alleged member of the NPA was caught in Surigao del Sur. And a checkpoint manned by a dozen military men armed with rifles and in bulletproof vests was set up in front of our house, because a government official was attending the beauty pageant right across the street.

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Over the same week in Manila, there was talk of a “Red October” plot against the President, while 77-year-old Education Secretary Leonor Briones went on TV to defend the wildly optimistic idea of fresh K-to-12 graduates getting jobs while competing with unemployed college graduates. On the other hand, since clashing with the President’s more-favored Budget  Secretary Benjamin Diokno on the 2019 budget, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) officer in charge Prospero de Vera III has uncharacteristically kept mum and submissive. Some National Teachers’ Month.

But what really concerns us teachers?

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Without question, President Duterte’s passage of Republic Act No. 10931, or the Universal Access to Tertiary Education Act, in August 2017 was a step forward, given its undeniably depressing precedents across too many administrations. However, a little more than six months since CHEd’s launching of RA 10931’s implementing rules and regulations, many of the deliverables from the government’s end have yet to happen, and it’s systematically crippling almost everyone in the education sector.

Exhibit A: As a measure to keep public schools from overcrowding with students—most state universities and colleges (SUCs) already lack teachers and classrooms—RA 10931 decreed the disbursement of vouchers to private schools for them to be able to accommodate students who wish to avail themselves of private school education at a subsidized price. However, four months since school started for many, most of these vouchers have yet to be given.

Data from various schools also reflect that there has been a spike in the number of entrance exam takers in SUCs. But along with this, rather curiously, there is a reduction in the percentage of applicants who proceed to enroll after passing the exams. This is bad news, because these reduced enrollment rates are a reflection of the willingness of Filipinos for higher education—even though it is now offered practically for free.

Is this the effect of K-to-12? Or has job mismatch and underemployment finally affected the premium Filipinos have traditionally placed on getting an education?

All these point to RA 10931 being a misnomer: It does not offer “universal access,” but instead places education at the mercy of government’s efficiency or inefficiency. It chokes private schools and oversimplifies stark realities in the education sector.

I have been teaching teachers for over four years now, and many of our gripes have remained the same: infrastructure woes, office politics, obscure government guidelines; disproportionate, ill-considered and ineffective policing by the Department of Education and CHEd through colossal amounts of paperwork unrelated to teaching; and, ultimately, unfair wages.

At the same time, I pass by the same checkpoint every day and think about how that element of the Philippine National Police, whose only job is to greet me good morning, is getting paid twice my rate. Taken as a whole, there are grave imbalances here, and government should be held accountable for such a system.

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A sober reminder on National Teachers’ Day: Teaching is just like any other job. We are not heroes; we just love to teach, and we earn our keep from teaching, just like any other job that pays. The government cannot expect us to excuse its lapses simply by calling us heroes.

DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte. Tweet the author @sarhentosilly.

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TAGS: national teachers’ month, opinion, Philippines, Teachers
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