Thursday, May 15, 2014

What Remains My Greatest Achievement

On my way this morning to the Land Transportation Office in Antipolo, I was tuned in to DZMM. One of DepED's assistant secretaries was on air, talking about tuition fee increase in private schools and teacher-student ratio. Education has always been a social issue close to my heart for I believe that it is still THE way to a better life, a way out of poverty to still a fourth of the country’s population. That statement is loaded, I know. But you see, even if a "labandera" works herself to the bones, her chances at a better life are almost nil unless she changes jobs. But how could she if she did not even get to high school? Luck plays a large part on her success because she has little resources and few opportunities to chart her own destiny however much she wants to.

It's a small triumph that public school teachers now earn more than what private school teachers on average do. Not that it benefits my children because not a few competent teachers in their school have opted to be public servants. This, despite the class size and, I would imagine, more challenges that go with teaching at a public school. They move perhaps because the government pay is a little higher and also because they are assured of tenure plus benefits they would get upon retirement.

I heard that average class size nationwide is now 45 students. Although it reaches 50-60 in Metro Manila like in Batasan, Quezon City. Ironically, however congested one could argue that area is, still, isn't it in the neighborhood of Congress? The country's education problems are right smack in the very place where some of our PDAF-pocketer, now beleaguered, lawmakers hold office. Shame. More shame and wasted taxes could be expected in the coming months as more than half of the senators get questioned for allocating funds to ghost NGOs and getting hefty kickbacks in the process. An erosion of trust in the Senate is in the offing as fresh rounds of investigations start rolling.

Got sidetracked there, now going back to my main discourse, if you will. I experienced for two years how it was like to study in a public school. I spent grades 5 and 6 in an elementary school in Libis. You know Eastwood? Yup, that's near where that school still stands today. I came from a pretty good middle-class school before that, a Catholic school where I faintly recall having a classmate who gifted a teacher with a sofa set for Christmas! And I had a classmate who gave me a bunch of pencils, such a treat for me then. Most of my classmates had gold earrings, nice watches, beautiful lunchboxes, and other pretty stuff I kind of envied. And many were fair-skinned and had shiny, white, well-tended teeth. I only had two sets of uniform which had to be washed every day, and whose hemlines fell awkwardly above my ‘bony’ knees on my second year in that school. I couldn’t remember if sometimes I was given money as baon, but I recall that the canteen was big but I couldn’t buy most of what it sold. Oh, also that school was where ‘white’ priests (not all were Americans) would come to the classroom before the first Friday of the month so we could confess our sins and partake of Communion during the Holy Mass. Girls wore a white version of the powder-blue, belted dress, that was the daily uniform, every First Friday. So I actually had three sets of school uniform, but one was used once a month only. I was thrilled when I would get chosen to say the readings or the Responsorial Psalm. It was my deep voice, I guess, that my teachers liked. My biggest takeaways from my stay in that school were: being prayerful, learning to speak English and write essays both in English and Filipino. I had great teachers there.

After fourth grade, I had to transfer to a nearby public school. It was a 10-minute walk from the apartment my family lived in at the time. I won't forget my first day when the class adviser called me up to the front and made me introduce myself. I hated having to speak in front as I was really shy and nervous. When I was done saying my name, where I lived, etc. (I don’t exactly recall what I said), the teacher burst into an applause, and asked the class to clap for me as well. They clapped because I introduced myself in English. Oh, that was a big boost to my low self-confidence! That first day had so much to do with how I fared in my academics from then on. I surprised myself, I got second honors in grades 5 and 6 when I almost flunked in first grade! Then Congresswoman Nikki Coseteng awarded me the silver medal during the graduation rites.

I was a nobody in the private school I came from. My most significant accomplishment there was being a contestant in a declamation contest, though I didn’t win. But things changed in my fifth grade upon moving to a public school. I took a big leap of faith in myself, studied hard, and became diligent in everything, including cleaning the floors and sinks of the school. I am not exaggerating when I say that I cleaned the floors of my classroom and the adjacent hall with rags washed in a basin filled with water, which I would fetch (several times) from the first floor, and deep cleaned the crevices of the communal sinks at the school grounds near the vegetable garden! Good thing, we were not made to clean the restroom or I would have done it without any thought as well!

My memories of my stay in a public elementary school also include being a “canteener.” A “canteener” is the one assigned to pick up the food tray from the school canteen, containing assorted food items to be sold to the class. Canteeners and cleaners are scheduled and rotated amongst the students by groups. The group leader, if I recall correctly, takes the lead in selling the food (boiled bananas, peanuts, pansit/noodles, rice cakes, bread buns, and the likes) and handing the money to the canteen with a tally of what was sold. Such was life in public school back in the late 1980s. We were lent books that were so old, they really smelled. I did not feel any less in that school, I felt the opposite, in fact. At least I always had baon and all my personal stuff were on par with my classmates'. I had a bag stroller, and that was pretty amazing then. My takeaways from my two years in a public school: grit and a bigger ambition to rise above my circumstances.

I end this abruptly (sorry) with these two great quotations:

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, 
is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, 
the balance-wheel of the social machinery. - Horace Mann

Image grabbed from the internet. Just the kind of thinking our politicians need. 

And incidentally, the class picture below appears on my Facebook page today with fresh comments from some of my sixth-grade classmates. Can you spot me? :)

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