Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The miseducation of the Filipinos
Felipe Miranda of the Philippine Star and Manuel Quezon of the Inquirer both write about the miserable state of education in the Philippines.

Quezon is writing off the entire miseducated generation of EDSA I babies. He hopes that the new and more stringent grading system will yield a better educated generation. Writing off a generation as forever lost is pretty dour, but Miranda is even more despondent: "If a political development of the first order were to take place within the year, there will be a properly educated Filipino public by the 2080s."

Belonging to the generation Quezon is writing off, I cannot help but feel a little defensive. Is our generation's condition really that bad? Or was there ever, honestly, an educated generation in the Philippines?

I was tutoring a high school student--a relative--last December, and my aunt was so incensed at his educational inadequacies that she started rattling off an almost exhaustive list of my cousin's faults. My cousin retorted back sharply, cutting my aunt in the middle of her litany: "If you were so good, why don't you answer the math questions in the textbook?"

My aunt was taken aback and was at a loss for words. I could not help but smile then because I know my aunt--who has an education degree although she never taught--does not know the answers. Hell, my aunt couldn't tell a quadratic from a linear equation, much more look for coordinates even if her life depended on it.

I think the point of the above anecdote is this: We are a mess because the generations that preceeded as were no better. And come May 2004 members of the generations preceeding ours will crowd the polls to vote for the star of their generations: FPJ "Da King."

Jose Rizal was complaining about the state of Philippine education during the fin de siecle. As far as I know Crisostomo Ibarra's physics class was well and alive before just as it is well and alive now. The scourge of miseducation is shared by all generations.

Our public school system will never be better. Why? Because our ministers of lofty portfolios simply do not have personal stakes in the system. Their children go to exclusive private schools of prohibitive matriculation. The public education can go to hell tomorrow and their own children would be spared. The resuscitation of our public school system is possible, but, sans the personal stakes, our public officials simply do not feel its immediacy.

I myself attended public schools all my life--and I am not talking of some fancy science schools, but the down and dirty public schools of a second-class municipality. It was terrible.

To give one an idea of how miseducated I am (I am almost tempted to say was): My English teacher in high school announced in the class that Shakespeare invented Cleopatra, and when I and one of my classmates accosted and told her that Cleopatra was, in fact, a figure in world history, she would hear none of it, and so it was that Cleopatra never existed in my English class.

Another teacher also announced rather pompously that Darwin's theory of evolution has been debunked, but she never told us by whom. Another science teacher, who prided herself for being the most learned among the science teachers in that school, was erroneously pronouncing cation as keyshon. She will probably be bringing her unique rendering of the word to her grave without realizing her mistake.

And I was luckier than most kids in my town. I lived in the poblacion so I supposedly had the "best teachers." Just imagine what the public school teachers are teaching in the smaller barangay schools. When we graduated, half of my high school section did not bother with university applications because high school was the furthest level of education they could afford.

Personally, I think of my public school education as a red badge of courage. I've been through hell and I emerged probably intellectually wanting but still--one has to grant--I am not exactly out of the race yet. I remember how I hated family reunions when my uncle would brag about his children getting their education in La Salle and the Ateneo and how brilliant they were. He was so condescending. I was too polite then to point out his children and I were simply incommensurate. My parents were paying more or less 100 pesos for my education while he was paying thousands. If my cousins had a thousand times my IQ, it was but just and proper.

The discrimination I experienced before during those reunions make me only too aware of the massive gap between the education of the elite children and the education of the rest of us.

Public schools do not have the resources, the books, the teachers. Potentially bright minds are going down the drain simply because parents could not afford private schools. Students from public high schools, especially those from the provinces, are lagging behind in academic performance so much so that the University of the Philippines has found it necessary to engage in some form of affirmative action program.

The public school system is falling. Why should the elites care when they can afford private schools? Simple. Miseducation of the Filipino people makes it possible for FPJ to be president, for Bong Revilla to be elected to the Senate. Give the people good public liberal education and there would be no need for People Power. And besides whatever happened to good old noblesse oblige?

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