VIEW: Personal touch missing in Philippine education

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Fifty-three. That's the average number of secondary school students in a class in the Philippines; some classes go as high as 80. Almost none (in public schools) go below 30. Yet 30 is about the max a teacher can handle; even that is high, 25 would be ideal.

You don't teach to 53, you lecture. There cannot be, is not, any individual attention. The child's unique abilities or lack of them can't be addressed by the teacher. Individual homework can't be discussed, let alone read with any degree of depth.

In a large class you learn by rote, you learn just what is taught you; you can't question, you can't ask for further explanation. It's hard to develop independent thinking and initiative.

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Fortunately, private schools do limit the numbers, and the difference is stark. Initiative, independent thinking flourish and the result shows up in the top level talent that is available. But it's the minority. Those from the majority take low-paying, menial jobs where with a more personalised education they could have done better.

And until President Benigno Aquino III came to power they weren't given enough time to think at all. A 10-year school system kicks you out on the streets at 15. Much too young to face the big, bad world.

The 12 years now introduced leaves only Djibouti and Angola on the outskirts. But that 12-year scheme, desirable as it certainly is, gives a worrying transition adjustment: What do colleges do with no freshmen for two years? Former education undersecretary and Star columnist Isagani Cruz wrote that among the K to 12 Committee's plans is for the Departement of Education "to lease the facilities of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) for Senior High School classes." He added that it's "a good solution for HEIs, because they will still have income even if there are no freshmen or sophomore students."

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So you're out on the streets at 17, what do you do? The education you receive is still insufficient to meet the demand of the service sector. Agriculture doesn't pay, particularly on the legally restricted five hectares you're allowed. And manufacturing, where the jobs could be, is in Vietnam (heaven knows why). So government concentration must be on getting it back. And that may begin to happen as the attractiveness of elsewhere starts to fade.

Chinese costs are rising and its antagonism to Japan (and elsewhere) will give companies second thoughts. Vietnam is starting to unravel (foreign executives say it's a nightmare doing business there, according to The Economist. Thailand is a growingly uncertain place, Myanmar isn't ready yet (but soon could be), and so on. So putting the Philippines back into manufacturing must be a primary policy of President Aquino. More aggressively so than it is today.

But today I want to tell you a little story, one I'd like to see replicated.

I'll bet you've never been to Sapang Palay. I'll bet you've never heard of Sapang Palay. Well, don't be too embarrassed, I hadn't either and I've been here a long time, and to many, many places. It is located in San Jose del Monte in Bulacan and was used as a squatter relocation centre in the '60s.

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But I was invited to a 60th birthday party of a friend, a good friend so I of course had to go. This friend had built an orphanage and school for the poor. Forty orphans, and 100 pupils from poor families with little chance of a future. He's building that future for them.

And who is he? You won't believe, but an Irish priest from the parish of Sittingbourne, Kent, in the UK. My daughter stayed with him for many months while she was studying there. But we'd become friends much earlier. He'd come here some years back and been dismayed by the poverty and deprivation of the poor children brought to him for blessing.

He decided to do something about it. He, together with a Filipino priest, Fr. Roger Cruz, founded Casa Famiglia in 1999 to care for abandoned, orphaned or abused children. He built a small dormitory (he came from a relatively well-to-do family) and took in orphans. They were unschooled, and there was no school. So he built one, and staffed it.

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Over the years it has grown into a small community with a five-storey school, two dormitories (boys and girls), a place for that strange ball game Filipinos and Americans play. A game they seem remarkably clumsy at too, they don't seem to be able to hold onto the ball, they keep dropping it.

He is teaching the curriculum, but he is doing more, he is teaching skills. And this is where I think much of the public education must head. Practical reality says that the hopelessly overcrowded Philippine school system and hopelessly inadequate business system must come together.

Sadly, there's no longer the luxury of the time to teach a well-rounded, full education. Education must be geared to the following life. And that's what Jim has done. His school has an extended kitchen to teach basic culinary skills. There's a room with a bed, tables and chairs and cabinets. A homemakers room, where housekeeping skills are taught.

I've promised him a workshop equipped to teach carpentry, plumbing, electricity, metalworking to give young people a trade. To give poor kids a future. I'm in the market for anyone who'd like to help.

This is a story that can be replicated, that must be replicated I think if the "inclusive growth" the president wants is to be achieved. If the personal attention children must have is to be achieved.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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