“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” the famous quote by Nelson Mandela goes. For so long, I had often heard and read this quote—mentioned in my elementary English textbooks and pasted on the walls of my junior high school classroom. Indeed, education is a basic right, attainable to all schoolchildren in an ideal world.
But there is no such thing as that perfect, ideal world. And in our country, education is a privilege.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to meet a few elementary schoolchildren from a public school in Rizal province through our National Service Training Program’s Literacy Training Service course. They seemed so bright and eager to learn, curiously asking questions and proudly demonstrating that they had recently learned how to read a few English words. Unfortunately, not the same can be said for some of their peers, since their school teachers revealed that a significant number of their students find it difficult to read words and texts in both English and Tagalog. Data provided to us by their school administration reported that more than 800 of their Grade 1 to 5 students are classified as non-readers, which means that they are unable to read texts and words. They also have more than 200 “frustrated readers”, composed of Grade 4 to 6 students that barely could understand the meaning of the texts they read.
But this is just a compact snapshot of the realities faced by students in the Philippines. In other areas, especially far-flung islands, children barely get the opportunity to go to school and study. In these scenarios, the volunteer teachers have to visit their students one by one—which undeniably takes a lot of their time and effort in exchange for a measly budget. This was the case of the teacher Sidang, whose struggles to provide education were featured in journalist Atom Araullo’s essay titled Letter from Tawi–Tawi—which narrated the schoolteacher hopping on boats to visit multiple houses situated on top of stilts to be able to teach young, bright children.
Unfortunately, it seems that these problems will not be addressed anytime soon. Although the incumbent administration allotted a P852.8-billion budget for the education sector, pledged to prioritize skills training to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education, and swore to review the K-12 curriculum, these barely address the long-standing education issues that the likes of teacher Sidang and her students experience. It is also worth noting that the education sector recently got embroiled in issues such as overpriced laptops, confidential funds worth P500 million, and the lack of budget for Special Education. Moreover, the salary increase for public school teachers has been denied, despite an earlier vow by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during his campaign. This begs the question: where are the plans to build additional learning facilities for students in far-flung areas, or the commitment to provide additional learning materials that public schools can use?
With these, the future of education in our country lies in grave danger—and so is the future of our youth, the supposed hope of our nation.
It is now a decisive time for the incumbent education officials to reconsider their priorities; instead of pushing for mandatory ROTC to “motivate, train, organize and mobilize the students for national defense preparedness”, why not ensure that all students first enjoy one of their fundamental rights—the right to education?
Education will always remain a relevant and crucial national issue that our country must address. Let this be a call for the government to address education woes at their root cause, especially in far-flung areas. Otherwise, our future is uncertain.