Sunday, October 17, 2004

The pathetic record of our public schools

The pathetic record of our public schools

Updated 09:09pm (Mla time) Oct 16, 2004
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the October 17, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

I WAS appalled by the recent report that as many as 97.9 percent of the public high school seniors who took the National Achievement Test given by the Department of Education last April failed to get the usual passing score of 75 percent. Their mean percentage score was only 50.08 in English, 36.80 in science and 42.20 in mathematics. Of the about 956,000 students who took the test, only 20.09 percent, or some 20,000 only, got a score of 75 percent or higher.

The report added that of the 1.4 million elementary school graduates who took the High School Readiness Test for admission to the secondary level, only 64 percent got a score of 75 percent or higher. Worse, half of the examinees failed to get a grade of even only 30 percent-and there were more than 500,000 of them.

I was appalled by these results, but I was not surprised. I had not expected much from our public school students, but I was alarmed just the same by their meager and disgraceful performance. It was such a pathetic contrast to the record of our public schools before the war, when we were still under the American administration.

For all their faults, these new imperialists-compared to their Castilian predecessors-taught our masses to read and write and even chose the bright ones to go to American colleges. We learned more about Washington and Lincoln rather than Rizal and Bonifacio, but at least it was a start, and soon enough we were writing our own history. The popular education introduced by the Thomasites and continued by their successors made the Philippines the most literate country in the whole of Asia and the most fluent in English among the Orientals.

But that was in the past, and it is not true any more. Where before even the kutsero and the magsasaka could manage a halting conversation in English with the foreigner, now the ordinary jeepney driver cannot understand the street signs in what to them is a dead language. The little they know of English they have learned from the television and radio shows and not in school as before. The jingoistic view today is that knowledge of English, which other Asian nations are striving hard to learn, is anti-Filipino.

I am a product of the public school system and remember with pleasure how I studied at the Legarda Elementary School and the Mapa High School and then at the UP on Padre Faura. We didn't have computers then and I suppose the students today are taught more than we learned in our time when life was much simpler and there wasn't as much to understand as the present IT and the quantum theory. I myself don't remember much of what we studied in chemistry and calculus. But I have retained much from the poetry of John Keats, the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mark Twain, and the wisdom of Cardozo.

The present system of public education in our country is in a sad state of neglect and deterioration. There is a dearth of competent and dedicated teachers, well-prepared textbooks, school buildings, classrooms, and campuses, adequate teaching equipment, and, yes, even of school spirit and pride. The students of the public school believe, and often rightly so, that they are inferior to the private school students who at least enjoy better opportunities for the improvement of their minds and bodies in the more salutary academic atmosphere their parents can afford or try to. The present public school in the Philippines is a poor relation of the affluent private school, where before the comparison was reversed.

One reason for the poor quality of our public school students today is the deleterious influence of show business. The movies, television and radio have conspired to cheapen the sense of values of such students in general and impaired their intellectual and other social virtues. A striking example is the decline of the simple virtue of courtesy, which was taken for granted before but is often a source of wonder now. Our generation was interested in school debates and oratorical contests, but students today would rather watch the vulgar antics of television clowns like Bong Revilla who is a comic first and a senator only second.

Senator Revilla is the current proof of the cheapening of the election process and the degradation of our democracy. He doesn't even have the good taste to honor his position as an elected senator by dissociating it from his tasteless if more remunerative role as a comedian. His undiscriminating audience obviously believes that a good buffoon will make a good senator. That audience should have learned its lesson from the laughable record of Revilla's predecessors but it had to show once again its misguided faith in the inanity of clowns in public service.

I have said often enough that the best way to cure our ailing democracy is to educate our people on the proper exercise of their suffrages. That is why it is imperative that we improve the quality of our schools as a first step toward civic consciousness. This is where we may begin to elevate their present pupils from mindless fans of undeserving harlequins to responsible thinking citizens. They must understand that public office is a serious business and certainly no joke.


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