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Opinion

Settling priorities

“Becoming a teacher is a difficult task. You’ll be underfunded, underappreciated,” these were the words hammered in my mind ever since I was a child, having admitted that I wished to take up teaching as a profession, all the way to my major courses in college. Everyone says that education is a vocation, a sacrifice you should be willing to take if you dare take this path. But if you’d look back at it, you’d think education would be the priority of a nation considering that this is a building block to create successful individuals who will contribute to the growth of our nation.

The education situation in the country didn’t have an impressive record even prior to the pandemic, with public schools being underfunded and passionate teachers being forced to shell out their own salary for the sake of educating students. And even if there were materials provided, errors were always pointed out, lowering the quality of education. In fact, this has led to the Philippines showing the worst educational performance among Southeast Asian countries, placing in the low 70s ranking in the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment.

The Department of Education (DepEd) always receives the largest chunk of the budget in order to accommodate the funding of facilities for schools and the increase of salaries for teaching and non-teaching personnel. This did bring a ray of hope for the system, an opportunity to improve the quality of accessible education to the youth.

Yet with the onset of the pandemic, a time when educators need a way to help bring students closer to them while they are shielded behind the four walls of their own homes, you would think that this hefty amount would be utilized to prepare both students and teachers for online learning—hosting training seminars for the situation and providing the necessary gadgets and materials for both parties to catch up with their lessons.

Surely you wouldn’t expect that P4.2 million from that budget would be dedicated to Christmas ham and cheese balls, just meant for the central office alone.

Along with the influx of jokes on how these food items would be a “great help” to the online education system, it made me think about how the budget was allocated. Now that we are approaching the end of the year, an opportunity to look back at what significant changes and improvements were made with such a hefty amount on their hands.

The situation of online classes would’ve been an opportunity to make use of the budget to find ways to provide compensation for students and educators and improve the quality of education provided in the modules. Yet with the rolling out of such materials, many were quick to point out not only the obvious errors in terms of content but also on how the questions printed on the paper would even dare try to instill toxic Filipino attitudes, such as body shaming or classism and even repressing freedom of speech with questions compelling students to praise the government. The danger of molding minds into such backward thinking would perpetuate the cycle of carrying such closed mindsets towards a world fighting to abolish these so-called “societal norms”.

Not to forget how DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones has treated the multiple complaints directed toward the distance learning system, from mental health issues to the onslaught of Typhoon Ulysses. Her statements dismissing both of these issues—failing to look into the correlation between suicide rates and distance learning, and even encouraging students to simply iron damaged modules after the storm hit. While it may be argued that some actions were made, it now seems to be as a response to her being called out.

Once again, we return to the ham and cheese situation, these funds merely being shelled out for the sake of appearing to show compassion, hiding all other sins committed under the rug. Questions now rise: where was the P500-billion budget allocated to? And is there proof that such was put to good use?

With DepEd once again receiving the biggest slice of the 2021 budget, we can only hope that it would be utilized for the improvement of both distance learning and face to face education. As a future educator myself who has decided to leap into this world despite the warnings they tell me, I strongly stand by the fact that the Filipino people deserve to be educated. Education is a human right, and hindering them from learning well is a violation of that right. Nothing should get in the way of learning, and it is the job of the government to ensure that and to offer it with quality.

Educators should not be accompanied with a story glorifying their suffering when they have an advocacy to fight for. The education system and how people get there is not a sign of resilience, but rather a cry for help. Education has been in danger, even before we had to resort to online learning. The government should settle their priorities, focusing on the future generations who will keep this country on its feet.

By Jihan Marie Ferrer

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