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Real-life version of ‘Hunger Games’

/ 01:53 AM July 27, 2015

“IN THESE days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right that must be made available on equal terms.” Thus wrote US Chief Justice Earl Warren in the landmark civil rights case Brown vs Board of Education (May 17, 1954), striking down state-sanctioned segregation between black and white children in American public schools as unconstitutional.

Today, education continues to be the most important function of the government. As the 1987 Philippine Constitution itself mandates, “the state shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” In order to make this a reality, it further mandates that the state “shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education.”

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But it seems that in its current state, there is something terribly wrong with the Philippine public school system. Data from the Department of Education will readily show that in the elementary level alone, public school students outnumber private school students 13 to one, with only nine public school students completing elementary education. Out of these nine graduates, only five will pursue a secondary education, with only three hurdling all levels and eventually graduating from a public high school.

The disparity in the quality of education between public and private elementary and secondary schools is glaring and undeniable. And it is rightfully the first to be blamed for the poor performance of public school students in college, because it sticks out like a sore thumb.

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But I believe there is an issue that goes beyond the mere “public vs. private school” debate. It is the inherent unequal access to opportunities and systematic repression within the public school system itself. It is the same inequality that an average student from a “normal” public school experiences when he or she realizes that his or her capabilities will pale in comparison with a student from a “science” public school. Or the unequal scholarship, training and job opportunities available to a state university student in Mindanao when placed side-by-side with those available to a student of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

What could have initially started as a slight difference in IQ, in confidence, or in conversational skills will ultimately become more pronounced through the years, starting from the day school authorities segregate the “smart” from the “normal.” Although it is constitutional for schools to accept and reject students on the basis of intellectual aptitude, the government has to reassess the way things are done within the public educational system, given the fact that “normal” public school students easily outnumber “science” public school students almost a thousand to one.

The government cannot afford to waste valuable human capital by choosing one out of every one thousand, most of whom belong to middle-class families, and then leaving the rest to fight for survival amidst overcrowded classrooms, ill-equipped teachers, poorly-made textbooks, peer pressure, and the hundred and one other reasons for them to drop out.

It is a real-life version of the “Hunger Games,” where those who come out on top are rewarded with scholarships or automatic admission to higher education institutions, and those who fail to make the cut are criticized for not studying hard enough or for giving in to the cycle of poverty. It is within the context of these systematic “Hunger Games” that society celebrates individuals who, despite their circumstances, rise to be more than what they were expected to become, because deep inside, we know that the odds were never in their favor.

I agree with Justice Isagani Cruz’s ponencia in DECS vs San Diego (Dec. 21, 1989) that not everyone has what it takes to be a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant. However, I believe that everyone should have at the very least a decent chance of becoming one, a glimmer of hope that they, too, who come from the ranks of those who have less in life, can become who they set out to be through a combination of hard work and systematic assistance.

If we are to rise and improve as a country, we need to help those who need it the most, to get the opportunities needed to have a decent shot at life. For starters, an educational system that does not serve to equalize the playing field, but merely perpetuates the inherent inequalities, is no opportunity at all.

David Padin ([email protected]) is a graduate of the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System and is currently a student at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

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