College graduate? Teach in a public school

Natashya Gutierrez

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A report funded by the United Nations Development Programme, out of 100 students who enter Grade 1, only 68 will complete 6th grade, and of that number, only 57 will go to high school, of which only 42 will graduate

EDUCATION PROBLEM. In the Philippines, 58% of Filipino students do not graduate from high school. Screenshot from Teach for the Philippines video.

MANILA, Philippines – In a small, hip office in a building in Makati, a group of enthusiastic, excited and young workers is a bundle of energy. They are about to offer someone a job.

It is an overcast Wednesday outside in mid-January, but inside, the office is bright and alive. Their workplace looks like a start-up in New York City, a hipster’s paradise — different, innovative, fresh.

It encapsulates the program that calls it home.

The workers — most of them under 30 — are recruiters, trainers, interviewers. They work for Teach for the Philippines, which is a partner of Teach for All, a global network that recruits and trains intelligent and talented college graduates to teach in public schools for two years.

It is an extraordinary commitment that seeks extraordinary graduates to help transform the country through education. So the enthusiasm of the group that is about to make their first offer to a young applicant is palpable, justified.

They gather around a phone, eager to offer the opportunity to a stellar graduating student.

Upon hearing the news, the voice on the other end of the line is just as excited: the new teacher says yes.

It is the start of a dream to achieve education equality in the Philippines.

Not just an advocacy

In the Philippines, 58% of Filipino students do not graduate from high school, according to the 2008-2009 Philippine Human Development Report.

According to the report funded by the United Nations Development Programme, out of 100 students who enter Grade 1, only 68 will complete 6th grade, and of that number, only 57 will go to high school, of which only 42 will graduate.

Couple that with a shortage of teachers in the country, and the problem becomes bigger.

This is what TFP is hoping to help solve. Their idea: why not get well-educated future leaders into the classrooms? Get them to give two years of their lives in exchange for a child’s future?

But Patricia Feria, director of recruitment, selection and matriculation for TFP, is cautious about seeing this simply as an advocacy or volunteer work. She emphasizes that this is a job, like any other job, which requires the same amount of commitment.

That’s not what Teach for the Philippines is. What we’re offering people is a two-year full-time commitment. Essentially, rather than committing yourself to a leadership or management trainee program elsewhere, come work for us, we’ll develop your leadership and professional skills and at the same time, you’ll make a difference in the lives of 60 kids,” she said.

The recruitment process, as with any prestigious training or job opportunity, is rigorous. There is an online application, case study interviews, and sample lessons. They must have glowing recommendations, a good academic record, and high emotional intelligence.

Recruiters seek candidates from any background or field of study but they must be leaders who are willing to learn. Aside from targeting the country’s top universities, TFP is also eyeing Filipinos abroad to teach. The acceptance rate is a competitive 10%.

Benefits for fellows

In exchange, chosen fellows are trained to get classroom-ready, mentored, and honed in their leadership skills. An 8-week summer institute sponsored by the Ateneo de Manila University — where they learn to become teachers — accumulates 9 credits towards a Masters for Education.

And because the global network is so far-reaching, teachers have resources all over the world, with the opportunity to interact with other teachers from other countries who are also part of Teach for All. The Philippines is the program’s 27th country partner.

In Asia, Malaysia, Japan, India, China and Pakistan have been practicing the same model, which originated in the United States where it has grown tremendously, and has become a popular job option for Ivy League graduates.

Partner engagement director Rebecca Warren, who is working to help TFP through Teach for All, says new teachers can easily reach out to their counterparts.

“As well as joining TFP, TFP fellows not only join a cohort of 50 Filipinos going into the public schools but also a cohort of about 10,000 fellows going into schools in various countries,” she said.

“For example, if you were stuck in Grade 3 and having difficulty to get a student of yours reading, you could shout out to your cohort of 50 but you can also shout out for looking at strategies and sharing ideas and best practices from a range of different countries across the network.”

In addition, Teach for All has established partnerships worldwide. For teachers accepted into the program, they are eligible to apply for a scholarship with the Thunderbird School of Management in Arizona, known to have the best Masters of Business Administration program for International Business.

Teachers, upon finishing their commitment with TFP, may also enjoy preferential treatment when applying to other post-grad programs, and to corporate jobs in international banks and companies — all of which appreciate the qualities TFP breeds in their fellows: leadership, perseverance and the capacity to innovate.

Mutual responsibility

It is a novel idea but it is worth trying. The good news is, even the government is willing to give it a shot.

TFP has partnered with the Department of Education (DepEd), which has identified the schools and areas that have the most need, while local government units through the Senate’s Priority Development Assistance Fund, has agreed to provide the monthly allowance of teachers.

The TFP team knows it cannot fix the country’s educational problems on its own, and that what they need is inclusive cooperation. They call it pakikipagkapwa-tao, or mutual responsibility.

They are in the middle of teacher selection, as the application deadline draws near on Saturday, January 27. The first batch of teachers will start in June, when the schoolyear starts in the Philippines. They will teach various subjects in 10 schools in Quezon City, first in 3rd grade, which DepEd has determined to have the larger dropout rates.

They will aim to integrate technology in the classroom. To be effective teachers. To leave a mark. 

As for the group of TFP workers finding and recruiting and training these teachers, their goal is to be out of a job eventually. They dream of the day that all Filipino children will have access to an inclusive, relevant, and excellent education. They say they won’t stop until they themselves are comfortable sending their own children to public schools in the Philippines.

It is an experiment, but it may just be the one that might work. –

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.