Dear Mr President,
I have long held great respect for you and admire the accomplishments of your administration thus far, but allow me to begin this letter with a bold note of caution: I write to you not as a doe-eyed schoolgirl trying to complete a homework assignment, or even a college undergraduate hoping for the honor of your momentary acknowledgement. With SONA just a few days away, I write this to you as nothing more than a young citizen concerned about the issue that matters most to me — education.
You spoke in your address last year about wanting to invest in our people through education. You said it would reduce poverty and build national competitiveness. You promised to build thousands of schools and hire thousands of teachers. You gave us budgetary figures to show the government’s renewed dedication to the cause — from P175 billion to P207.3 billion. But when you implemented your K-12 proposal to change our educational system, I wondered what point you were really trying to make. I wondered why you automatically associated increasing a child’s number of years in school as substantial educational reform.
In my opinion, Mr President, the fundamental problem with our educational system is quality, not quantity. It’s not how many years our nation’s children stay in school, but the absence of the motivation to simply attend school because of less than satisfactory conditions.
I’m not saying that Filipinos are lazy. Filipinos are intelligent, creative, and capable. We work 12-hour shifts on empty stomachs, brave the sweltering heat to earn a little extra cash, and manage to leave the country and our families just to make sure that all our children are fed. The last thing we are is lazy.
I’m saying that Filipinos want to go to school, but that our nation is discouraging rather than cultivating this mentality. With dropout rates over 50%, it is obvious that there is a dire lack of incentives for the poorest families to continue sending their children to class every day. Somewhere along the line, people stop believing that an education makes a difference.
Once in a while, a family is blessed with a child who has enough drive and determination to trudge 4 hours through dirt and rivers just to sit in a hot and crowded classroom, reading from one book shared with 4 others and learning from a teacher they can barely hear. There are definitely kids who beat the odds, but they are rare. Instead, most grapple with harsh realities of daily living and eventually succumb. It is easy to throw around the belief that education is the solution to poverty, but we often forget that it doesn’t end with just stepping into a classroom.
A raise in budget unfortunately won’t cut it. We have to reassess what we claim are the reasons our educational system is no longer improving and start there. We need to cultivate the Filipino desire to study and learn.
We need better classroom conditions, better reading materials, and better study aids. One book for 4 children is not only inefficient, it is disheartening for a child who is unable to complete readings or assignments at his own pace. We need to modify our curriculum so we encourage kids to think for themselves instead of spoon-feeding them facts and figures to memorize. Regurgitation is a skill that matters little beyond history class, whereas problem-solving and critical thinking will be always useful. Most of all, we need to reward our country’s teachers with better incentives and higher salaries. We need to reestablish teaching as a respected profession. We must motivate our teachers so they can motivate their students.
This is a tall order — one that is nowhere close to being accomplished — and it seems that the President is held accountable for this delay. You are often blamed for the inefficiencies of both your Cabinet and Congress, and even those of the very people who complain that you are not doing enough. You need our help and cooperation with this, Mr President, so I suggest you begin speaking about education by admitting that.
I personally know that I just can’t blame all of this country’s problems on the government, though it’s always a great temptation. That is why I am studying hard and taking initiative. I understand that I actually have a say in whether this country sinks or swims. But I was lucky and born into a privileged family — a gift I realize I received through none of my own doing. This is why we have to give back, and why many have already begun doing so. Starting small and fixing our school system from both the bottom (for us) and the top (for you) should give other children this chance too.
I hope to hear words of this same vein on Monday, when I tune in to watch the live broadcast of your speech. Know always that you will always have the support of the millions of students who know that a good education goes a long way.
Michi Ferreol – Rappler.com
Michi Ferreol graduated from International School Manila in 2011 and is an incoming sophomore student at Harvard University. She is presently an intern at Rappler.