The Long View: Writing
off a generation
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Monday, Feb. 2, 2004
IN THE 10 years I’ve been writing a column, I’ve had quite a few chances to interact with public school teachers and their students. Each time the experience leaves me frightened and heartened.
The dedication of the teachers I’ve encountered is something phenomenal; the innate ability of the students I’ve met, admirable; these things hearten me.
What frightens me is seeing the handicaps under which teachers and students have to try to teach and be taught. Besides handling enormous classes and dealing with red tape, our public school teachers have to deal with the whims of those running the education department, and playing foster parent to students from broken homes or who live in neighborhoods overrun by poverty, crime and drugs. It has gotten to the point where teachers are increasingly anxious about trying to provide guidance to students, and in particular discipline them, because they could run into problems with parents who do not want their children disciplined or even taken under the wing of their teachers. The effects on students of a society increasingly deprived of hope, and options, in which reality makes the values that schooling is supposed to inculcate besides book-learning irrelevant, is terrifying.
The teachers who made possible the creation of a middle class from the 1920s to the 1970s are all dead or retired; the generation of teachers they mentored are quietly retiring as well. There is a ray of hope in the fact that there are teachers moving from the private schools to the public schools because the pay is better. But as one person involved in promoting values formation among teachers told me, the problem is that among our teachers, the ones in senior positions now are permanently scarred by the effects of martial law. Martial law politicized the teaching profession in that creativity gave way to the need to bootlick to the leaders of the New Society. It became more important to propagandize martial law than to actually teach; the looting of the national treasury led to low wages and the enterprising leaving the country; the population grew by leaps and bounds but there were fewer and fewer competent teachers left to handle the ever-growing number of students. Since trends take time before their full effect can be seen, we are only now seeing the real legacy of the dictatorship when it comes to education: a country in which the young are increasingly incapable of meeting the challenges of modern life.
The generation I belong to doesn’t suffer from an inferiority complex, education-wise, when it comes to those older, and I don’t think the older generation looks down on mine as being ignorant in comparison to them. But I have increasingly noticed what people my age have in common with those older than us: a combination of skepticism and contempt for those who are in their early 20s and below. Those who can afford it are abandoning old school ties and putting their children in small schools; those who can’t afford it are increasingly despairing about the prospects of their sons and daughters.
Now comes the education department saying that the time has come to stop letting things slide, and that standards have to be raised. The public school teachers protesting this decision have a point in denouncing the implementation of this policy at all levels and soon. The sad reality may be that the generation of kids already enrolled beyond Grade 1 must be allowed to continue under present, less stringent grading methods, because it’s unfair to suddenly subject them to standards they are ill-equipped to meet.
As it is, high school teachers tell me frankly that the majority of students who enter high school aren’t qualified to do so; and that the majority of those who will finish high school don’t deserve to do so. But what do you do? You could push for vocational education in order to give people alternatives: a white collar life or a blue collar existence. The problem is, educators and politicians have been saying we need an equal emphasis on both for over 50 years, and nothing has happened. Even if vocational training is given a big push, there aren’t jobs for those who would learn trades; while at least those receiving basic high school education acquire basic skills that might help them become OFWs. The best jobs, the middle class jobs, are almost entirely the stranglehold of private schools, but even their graduates are increasingly losing their competitive edge.
The only rational way to fairly tighten things up is to apply the new grading system to kids now entering Grade 1, and apply it as they move up, and more kids begin schooling. This means the current crop above Grade 2 are condemned to an inferior education; it means, though, there is hope for the generation to follow. This is the sad fate of our country as a whole. The Edsa Revolution babies have to be written off, because they were never given a fighting chance. What I wonder about is whether our society can handle the disappointment and loss of hope that will be felt by millions when the new standards are imposed.
Feedback is welcome at my home page, www.quezon.ph.