Education: [ACCESS DENIED!]

Written by: Pat Jasmin

The socio-economic disaster that is the Philippine society has been made worse by the pandemic. This was brought to us not only by the bioenvironmental catastrophe that is COVID-19, but by the incompetent government leaders and its disintegrating bureaucratic structure as well. Millions of Filipinos sunk deeper into the quicksand of poverty, while middle-class citizens are one hospital bill away from impoverishment. For the Filipino people, accessing basic social services turned from being improbable to impossible. And for most Filipino students, the dream for an accessible, quality education is dying at the same rate as the spread of the virus.

It is no secret that the Philippine education system, even before the pandemic, was already inaccessible. This was made worse by the ill-considered implementation of K to 12 in 2013 by then President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino III. After the implementation of this new, premature education system, dropout rates shot through the roof, students were crammed into tiny, ill-maintained classrooms (if they were lucky enough to have one, that is), and teachers remained overworked and underpaid. Then, COVID-19 came. The worldwide pandemic brought additional struggles to the already degrading quality of education in the country. When the already overdue lockdown was announced, schools, teachers, and students scrambled to find ways to protect themselves without sacrificing the formal education. However, it seemed like the government agencies who were supposedly in charge of keeping the Philippine education system in line were as lost as the people, despite having millions of resources and grandiose claims of expertise. Eventually, they settled on continuing formal education using perhaps one of the most impractical and inaccessible form there is — online classes.

Photo by Sunstar. Source: DOH warns of possible health problems from online classes — SUNSTAR

Undeniably, online classes are classist. Then again, the whole education system is classist; online classes just magnify it tenfold. There is no surprise that this plan was met with indignant protests not only from students, but from teachers and parents as well. Families were already suffering from mass unemployment and bankruptcy; now they have to provide additional resources for costly devices and pricey data plans for their child/children’s schooling, at the same time wishing for extra hours of the day to find work and take care of their kids at home. Teachers, already overworked and underpaid, struggled to find ways to provide education to their students despite the lack of resources. They themselves braved the pandemic delivering modules, sometimes using their own money, just for them to be ridiculed by uncontextualized module mishaps posted on social media. And students, already alienated by the individualist, capitalist-serving education, became even more detached, attending classes not for their eagerness to learn but to attend just to pass requirements and finish the course.

Teachers creating and sorting out modules as part of the Department of Education’s Learning Continuity Plan. Photo by Enrique Agcaoili via The Manila Times. Source: Pros and cons of online learning — The Manila Times

In addition, just as the education institutions prepare for the opening of a new academic year, back-to-back deadly typhoons hit the country. Some people saw online classes and these tragedies, both manmade and natural, as the end of their dreams. Unfortunately, for some people, these disasters also meant the end of their lives. Suicide due to inability to continue formal education through its current form became rampant.

If government institutions claim that the current education in the Philippines should serve the Filipino people and the country, why is it inaccessible? Why are the communities, who have to build their own schools due to the government’s negligence, being militarized?

It is obvious that one of the main reasons for the inaccessibility of education is due to the country’s economic problems that lead to lack of resources and poverty. The ones who thrive or at least have the ability to go through this online form of formal education are those who have the time and resources for it — the privileged. To reiterate the points raised earlier, devices and data for online education cost a lot of money. And since they are pricey, one may assume that the data services will be provided promptly and of high quality. But after you acquire a decent device to connect to the internet and pursue your education, you will be immediately met with laggy connection. In addition, schools and universities, especially private ones, are still charging exorbitant fees despite the fact that no face to face classes are being held. Some institutions even have the audacity to raise their tuition fees, defying the logical expectation that online classes mean less maintenance cost of campuses and less energy consumption. These just substantiate the claim that the education system is inaccessible because it is commercialized.

The obvious ineffectivity and inaccessibility of this online education makes people wonder what is the government doing to address these lapses? Evidently, after almost a year without face-to-face education and encountering the same problems we had during the start of the lockdown, whatever actions that are being taken (or if they are doing anything at all), are not enough. The government’s lack of plans and actions heightened calls from progressive institutions and individuals for the government to recalibrate and reassess not only this form of formal education, but the entire education system itself. If government institutions claim that the current education in the Philippines should serve the Filipino people and the country, why is it inaccessible? Why are the communities, who have to build their own schools due to the government’s negligence, being militarized? Why do students and teachers have to sacrifice their safety and lives just to receive and give substandard, out-of-context education? Why is education a privilege, not a right? Who does this type of education serve?

These questions and protests fell on the government’s deaf ears. Perhaps it is because the Department of Education, one of the government agencies supposedly leading the efforts in improving education, was too busy exhausting their resources and spending their 4.278 million-peso fund trying to obtain the most exorbitant priced queso de bola and ham for Christmas. This was happening while parents, teachers, and students were literally drowning in typhoon waters and figuratively drowning in poverty and debt. As we historicize further into the start of the pandemic, a lot of these problems could have been prevented if the government heeded the call of the people regarding the implementation of travel bans and other health protocols. But no, apparently the country’s toxic relationship with China is more important than the lives of the Filipino people.

As we entered the start of lockdowns and suspension of classes, the people clamored for mass testing and additional resources for education and health, the basic social services we should all have access to. Again, did the government listen?

No. They prioritized their fascist agenda by giving more resources to the mercenary police and military along with targeting human rights activists and dissenters who are only fighting for democratic rights the government can but won’t provide. And now as we welcome yet another academic year trapped in misery that is the lockdown, we still have yet to receive the vaccine that can hopefully end this pandemic, thanks to the incompetence of Duterte’s regime. This political situation is killing the Filipino people in different forms: either a person may die due to poverty, militarization, extra-judicial killings, virus, lack of accessible health care, or this terror regime will make your life too miserable to bear, leaving a person with no choice but to opt out of their life. Duterte’s regime is making us choose our own poison while pinning the blame on their manufactured “terrorist” boogeyman.

The accessibility of education is not only an economic issue, because it also transcends to political and cultural aspects. The government’s bias in prioritizing military resources rather than education, giving higher salaries to police and militaries while teachers are underpaid, choosing to indulge in decadent spendings despite lack of education materials, and pushing anti-democratic attacks on progressive institutions show their political prejudice. Unfortunately for us, it seems to be that our basic social services and human rights are the least of their priority. In addition, the current education system in the Philippines contradicts the values of our culture and the needs of our people. The main language of the academe remains English, despite us claiming independence from the United States a century ago. This limits the access of Filipinos who cannot read nor understand the English language to knowledge that can benefit them. Worse, there are plans to eradicate Filipino subjects in tertiary education altogether, a clear manifestation of the government’s lack of care for our culture and the languages that binds us together. And now, manifested by the government’s plan to terminate the UP-DND Accord, making progressive students and faculties vulnerable to the state’s way of pacifying their dissent. It seems like the government does not only want to erase the culture of resistance, it wants to instill and heighten the culture of terror as well. We already have an inaccesible education, let us not allow it to be fascist as well.

As we face this so-called “new normal” education involving online classes, we must evaluate if this is really the education we need, or if the “old normal” education was one to miss. Unfortunately, none of these norms make quality, mass-oriented education accessible, especially to the masses who cannot afford it.

Mobilizing, lobbying, discussions, and sincere organizing. Photo by Gabriel Gagno.

However, all is not lost. If we look back in history, the plight for women’s access to education was daunting, the struggle against race segregation in schools seemed almost impossible, and the recent call for free tuition in state universities and colleges was indeed challenging, but all of these were won, bringing us few steps forward toward our genuine right to education. Because education inaccessibility is a systemic issue, we need a systemic change; And this cannot be done alone. It may seem daunting at first, but through exhaustive mobilizing, lobbying, discussions, and sincere organizing it can be done.

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Institute for Nationalist Studies

Institute for Nationalist Studies

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The Institute advances ideas and information campaigns on social issues to ferment a nationalist consciousness for the interest of the people’s welfare