Sunday, June 01, 2014

Let the annual circus begin


This is my column today, June 1, 2014.
This column is a repeat of previous columns that I have written to mark what happens around this time of the year with stunning regularity: The bellyaching and screaming that coincides with the annual opening of classes.  It’s a ritual that we all go through every year.  
It begins around May when media networks announce which universities and schools are increasing tuition and by how much.  School fees are always increased annually because they are subject to market forces.  Obviously, operating expenses including salaries of teachers and administrative personnel go up every year and schools pass on the additional cost to students.  Amazingly enough, many people in this country are still able to summon righteous indignation at our universities and schools for supposedly being heartless and greedy and lambast the whole educational system – every year! 
Then it moves on to the search for cheaper school supplies and the many sob stories around how parents try to stretch their budget to be able to afford uniforms, notebooks, pens and crayons, and school bags.  It is always amusing when media people try to turn the whole thing into a class issue – how the rich shop in malls while the poor wrestle with everyone else at Divisoria as if the divide is that clearly delineated.  I know quite a number of rich people who also shop in Divisoria just as I know quite a number of lower-income people with highly specialized tastes—they think that a Mongol pencil bought at National Bookstore is of better quality compared to the same brand of pencil bought in a sari sari store. 
I know, though, that many politicians, local governments, and private institutions distribute school bags and school supplies to school children.  The problem is that for some strange reason the distribution always happens weeks after schools have opened and harassed parents have already bought school supplies.  I understand that organizations want to make sure that they distribute school supplies to kids that are actually enrolled in schools; but then again, if we really come to think about it, isn’t there value also if out-of-school kids actually find use for the school supplies at home to advance their own learning?  And then, there is the problem of the school bags carrying the name of the politician who supposedly spent for them.  I once visited the home of some relatives and found five of these school bags being used as storage for household odds and ends.  The kids didn’t want to use them because they didn’t want to be walking around carrying a bag that had the huge face of their mayor flashing his pearly whites.  I think families would appreciate the humanitarian gesture more if politicians and organizations don’t turn giveaways into advertising billboards.  I personally don’t have qualms using giveaway bags for as long as the name of the company or donors are not shamelessly splashed on them.
The whole annual frenzy comes to an emotional climax once the schoolyear officially opens and classes start.  Lo and behold, we become reacquainted with all the problems of our educational system.  This is when everyone becomes an expert on instructional technology,  classroom management, school administration, etc.  The lack of teachers, inadequacy of classrooms, lack of facilities, lack of books, etc, become stark realities once again and the whole country engages in collective blamestorming.  It is during this time when everything seems to be wrong with our educational system and the whole ineffectiveness and helplessness of our education officials are laid bare for everyone to gawk at.
Two weeks after, it appears as if all the problems magically vanishes into thin air, as if we simply imagined all of them!  
And this is why I tend to respond to the annual frenzy with a bit of disinterest.  I think we can best address the problems of the educational system if we actually discuss them objectively —without the circus that attends the annual opening of classes.  Better still, it would be best if we actually discuss the problems more strategically, taking into account the roots of the problems and with a view towards impelementing systemic and sustainable solutions.

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