When my university’s reading break ended, I was confronted with two realizations. One: our education system is a brutal machine. And two: in this machine, we are cogs running non-stop. To put it another way, students are conditioned to behave like automatons for most of their waking life. Sleeping time is reduced. Sanity breaks are postponed. Health is compromised. It even leaves one asking — is there rest in this kind of education?
The education system in the country is neoliberal in framework. It complements the labor demands of the global economy, an order that fattens the coffers of capitalists and puts underdeveloped countries like ours at the slump. Students like myself are equipped with skills necessary for the order to thrive. But what are these skills to begin with?
For a decade, I had been flunking my Math classes. You could bet I could never solve a mathematical problem beyond the basic operations, even if you’d bribed me with a million pesos. If I was good at Math, I would not have failed my General Mathematics in 2016 and retaken it the following semester.
When you’re bad at Math, the curriculum finds a way to guilt-trip you. You feel ashamed whenever you forget what an algebraic expression is. So, you beat yourself up. However, if you’re terrible at Art, or Physical Education, or Social Studies, the meanest reaction you can get from classmates is a mere side-eye or a laugh. Because our curriculum places more weight on subjects such as Math, Science, and English, you are convinced that Arts, PE, and Social Studies, among others, are merely peripheral subjects.
Neoliberal education focuses on subjects that ready students for the existing mode of production. Students are trained to fit the framework, like cogs in a machine. For the global economy to stay afloat, it needs a competitive, productive, and efficient labor force. Think of the market. How does a business grow? It does so by eliminating competition, increasing productivity, and enhancing efficiency. These are the latent skills we acquire from this kind of education.
We are trained to be competitive. I recall my experience in junior high school. I was in the top section, and the competition for honors was intense. Some of my classmates, those who always made the list, would dedicate their time acing the exams or creating the most extravagant outputs. Once, I took things so seriously that I sacrificed my sleep. To keep myself awake every night, I would submerge my feet in a pail of cold water as I listened to loud music. In the end, though, my hard work paid off. I was awarded second honors. Years later, when I could no longer penetrate the magic 10, I looked for satisfaction in campus journalism, theater, clubs, and scouting. But every time people complimented those who excelled in the regular subjects and discredited education beyond the classroom’s four corners, I felt as if my best was not enough.
We are pressured to generate outputs in such a short amount of time that we forego our rest. We think of excess pressure as normal. It’s normal for a college student to only sleep five hours or less a day. It’s normal if one forgets to take their breakfast every morning. It’s normal if one’s body succumbs to fatigue. After all, sacrifices have to be made. We accept them as part of the journey. Even if we can no longer endure the stress, we continue to push our limits. Our education tells us to produce — because our value depends on our product.
The struggles I experienced during the initial conduct of distance learning were worse, so last year, I decided to let go of one semester due to gadget issues and overlapping responsibilities. I stopped turning in assignments and muted my inbox to give myself peace. But just when I thought I could finally relax, I was visited by the specter of graduation.
Obviously, I got frantic at the thought of not being able to complete my degree in time. My anxiety level was high and all I could think of were my incomplete subjects. I thought of working on them before they piled up at the end of the new year, but then I realized I might only do further injustice to myself. It took me half a year to break free from this anxiety.
Whenever I tell my family about my struggles in the brutal machine, they always invalidate me. They don’t buy my arguments. Regardless of what I have to say, my decision to file for a leave of absence or give up a semester is chalked up to “personal” trouble — my trouble with time management and organization. Little do they know that some of these personal troubles are in fact public issues — birthed by our exploitative education system. But, hey, the neoliberal education won’t adjust to anyone. I need to make the adjustments myself. And if I want to do better, I have to practice being efficient.
Before I knew it, all my candles had burned out. I begin to break down. The motivation to continue disappeared. And despite the efforts I exerted, whether by moving forward or retreating temporarily, I blamed no one but myself. I should’ve not slept the night before my exam. I could’ve aced it. Had I worked a little longer, my proposal would’ve impressed my professor. And if not for my perpetual procrastination, I wouldn’t be out of school today.
Day by day, I feel alienated and dehumanized. Our kind of education killed the human in me. Education is not supposed to be exhausting. But because of the neoliberal framework, students are now exhausted. There is no rest. Rest is only for those who can afford it. If rest was indeed genuine and accessible, no student would be left behind.
Dropping courses in college is not easy. Delaying graduation isn’t either, especially if you are left with no choice. But I have to do both. After all, I’m only human. I also get tired. I stumble. Sometimes, I refuse to remain strong, and that is valid. In UP Visayas, we tell each other, “Pahuway kag padayon (Rest and continue).” I know that rest is part of the bigger resistance. – Rappler.com
Phillippe Angelo Hiñosa is a Rappler intern from the University of the Philippines Visayas. He is a senior taking up Bachelor of Arts (Sociology) with units in History as a second major.