An honorable profession
I went to an exclusive boy’s school in Sydney called Trinity Grammar School. In those days, long, long ago, the sexes were separated in private schools. It was the teachers that made Trinity and created an environment you could be proud to belong to. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the education they gave me. Who among us who read this (hence educated) would disagree?
Our parents guided us into society and inculcated into us the moral and ethical concepts that should guide our lives. With the level of corruption here, it would seem too many parents failed. Maybe it should be an educator’s role. Teachers taught us how to survive in this life. The sheer joy of learning the new was brought to us by our teachers. They were the bedrock of our learning. And they were revered and respected, as was their right (mind you, I didn’t like our history teacher much).
But something has gone wrong here. We’re treating our teachers dismally: lousy pay, inadequate facilities, and insufficient supplies. Indeed, we are constrained by limited public funds, but surely we can do better than this. Any normal person would give up if so treated. Our Philippine teachers do not—they strive to educate in unacceptable conditions.
Now they have a new threat to their work as teachers: COVID-19. The necessary physical interaction between students and teachers has been broken, the personal relationship taken away. A whole new way of teaching has to be introduced. It’s a huge challenge. Curricula have to be rewritten, a major task in itself. Getting that to the students is another challenge where the internet is lacking too often. Only half of our teachers have sufficient self-learning modules. Meanwhile, the expense of tapping the internet is unaffordable to the majority of families. With ABS-CBN closed, there are less TV airwaves to use. The Department of Education requested P35 billion to provide all the modules 24.7 million students need. The 2021 budget allots only P15 billion.
All over social media, we read stories of public school teachers that need to climb mountains just to get a strong signal for their pocket Wi-Fi. They spend their own money to load their portable internet devices just so they can enroll their students and submit lesson plans. Some make do with dilapidated laptops, and fewer somehow find the money to buy a new, cheap model. It’s government’s responsibility to provide them, but the budget is not available to do so. In the new normal, learning on a screen will be obligatory, but the screens aren’t being provided in the numbers needed.
Government is right to focus on reviving the economy as quickly as possible. But the future growth of that economy can’t be ignored, and that can only be provided by educated Filipinos. Poverty can only be broken by educated Filipinos.
I’d like to suggest that businesses take schools under their wings—an Adopt A School program. Start with augmenting teacher’s salaries and providing laptops, paying the monthly internet costs, and providing the other things too many schools are short of. A mid-level call center agent earns between P30,000 and P40,000; a Teacher lll, who has at least five years of experience, earns about P25,000 a month. A salary of P40,000 would be more reasonable. Not to denigrate call center operators who do a needed job in this modern world, but should those who educate the future earn less?
Teachers are professionals; they deserve a professional salary. There’s a proposed bill to raise the salary of an entry-level public school teacher to P31,000 from the current P20,000. That rate of increase should be continued up the line. The measure, just like too many other important measures, is languishing in Congress.
Aside from their regular salaries, the allowances provided to teachers should also be raised. There are proposals to raise the allowance for teaching supplies to P10,000 from the current P3,500. Now that classes are done online, the allowance should still be raised so teachers can augment their budget for prepaid internet and other visuals. The bill, however, remains pending on second reading.
Distance learning bothers me. My love for science was instilled by teachers who took me under their wing with tutorials beyond the classroom. It can, perhaps, be done via Zoom. But who in the countryside has the facilities and money for that?
After school, we didn’t play with an Xbox, we played with other kids, learning the social skills needed later in life, and played sports to develop our bodies and the sense of teamsmanship that COVID-19 has taken away. It’s a strange new world we’re entering. Are we preparing the kids for it? Are we caring for the teachers?
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