Wednesday ∗ 30 Jul 2008

post-SONA blues: LFS one point, Dep Ed zero

Other than the fashion both inside and outside the halls of Congress (which will be topic for another entry), what’s also exciting about the President’s annual SONA are the discussions that lead up to it, where once a year, media actually sort of asks the right questions (finally!). Then again, with a past SONA to diss, and a new one to compare it to, how can any show go wrong?

And so on the new TV show Harapan with Korina Sanchez and Ted Failon last Monday sat Vencer Crisostomo, secretary-general of the League of Filipino Students, and Department of Education Undersecretary Vilma Labrador, face-to-face (kasi nga harapan, hindi ba?) to talk about GMA’s presidential promises on education. Suffice it to say that in this harapan, Crisostomo had the upper hand, primarily because he was faced with a Dep Ed undersecretary who, like her boss GMA, had her way with truth. That is, she had a way of lying by not talking about the full picture of our public schools.

So Labrador says with pride in her voice and a sparkle in her eyes that the teacher to pupil ratio has consistently been kept down to 1:35 or 1:36, thanks to GMA’s administration. Barely able to contain his laughter, Crisostomo responds that this is only so because the classrooms have been cut in half — as in literally in half with makeshift walls! — so instead of 1 teacher to 70 pupils, it can truthfully be said that it’s now 1 teacher to 35 students at any given time.

He also points out that it’s the logic of having three shifts – that is, three different classes – for any given day, any teacher, and every halved classroom, that allows for the 1:35 ratio to be true. In fact Dep Ed Order No. 62, s 2004, speaks of these shifts as a way of solving the problem of classroom shortage, which at that point was at 51,947. Inthe said order, it’s even recommended that for certain public schools, they must have as many as four shifts, not three, and the maximum number of students for every classroom is set at 65. Wait, is that a whole, or a halved classroom?

But Labrador seemed surprised at Crisostomo’s response, if not flabbergasted. How could she respond? Well, with no answer at all. So she starts talking about statistics on the number of graduates in public schools, and how statistically, the numbers have been consistent. To which of course Crisostomo responds by mentioning the now higher drop out rate, which would technically allow for the number of graduates to be consistent, because you’re not counting the growing number of students who leave school because they can’t afford it.

But public schools are suppose to be free, yes? Failon asks. No, according to Crisostomo, as there are fees that students continue to be required to pay, to which Labrador says, report those schools that still have fees and the Dep Ed will take care of it. To which Crisostomo says, “hindi naman maiiwasan ‘yon.” Because really, if a school has to collect money for a bathroom that students can use, or an electric fan to ease the heat of a classroom with 70 students, who would complain?

Meanwhile, Labrador is left with nothing to say, and nothing to be proud of. Someone should’ve warned her that speaking of truths based merely on gov’t statistics, doesn’t hold in the face of someone like Crisostomo who has a real sense of what it is that actually happens on the ground, in the public schools, that half the time seems to only be a theory to the Dep Ed and GMA.

Of course it helped that Crisostomo was not your grim-and-determined scary activist. For most of Harapan, his charm was difficult to miss, informed as it was with knowing that truth was on his side – the kind that sustains organizations like his, because it is the truth that is lived by the majority who aren’t invited to speak in shows like this one.

LFS: one point. Dep Ed: zero.

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