It was school opening last week in the Philippines, and once again we read reports about all sorts of perennial problems that plague the education system.
But one problem that is causing nightmare to concerned individuals is the extreme hardship children in a remote village in Bukidnon suffer every day on their way to school. Television news footage shows six children, aged seven to nine, boarding a bamboo raft to go to the other side of a fast-flowing river and climbing a crude bamboo ladder to reach a path on a stiff mountainside. They then hike some three to four kilometers to reach their school.
Climbing the improvised bamboo ladder was risky, and two of the children were seen gingerly scaling the ladder, possibly thinking that one misstep could mean a fatal fall on the stony river below.
Enter Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
Asked about his assessment of the school opening, he said, “This is the best school opening thus far.” He acknowledged problems remained, but he hastened to add that these were “solvable” and none were “insurmountable.”
Secretary Luistro sounds like he is living in another planet. The parents of the suffering children in Bukidnon must be slamming the No. 1 school official for his apparent lack of knowledge of the real situation in remote areas.
I share the indignation of people about the deplorable school situation in the rural areas. I know first-hand the problems of school children living in barrios far from school. As a rural boy who grew up in the Ilocos, I had to hike six to seven kilometers to attend high school in the poblacion. I went through this kind of hardship for four years.
During the rainy season, wearing sandals made of truck-tire rubber, I had to hike on slippery, muddy rice paddies. With my feet slipping out of the sandals every now and then, the hiking was an ordeal. For at least two times, I lost my balance and fell in the watery, muddy rice field with my books and notebooks soaked in the water. I had to go back home to change my pants and dry my books and notebooks.
One afternoon while on my way home, I was nearly swept off the unpaved road by rampaging floodwaters.
At another rainy day, I had just negotiated a wooden bridge when I heard the cracking sound of breaking wood. Looking back, I saw the bridge collapse and wash away by floodwaters. Had the bridge given way when I was still walking on it, I would have drowned in the swirling river.
Compared, though, to the sufferings of the poor children in Bukidnon, my ordeal as a school boy seems like routine hardship.
Perhaps, Secretary Luistro had not had such experience as a child. This could be the reason why he could not see what is supposed to see in his capacity as education secretary. We suggest he go to the rural areas like those in Bukidnon so he could find out for himself the real situation. His mere visit to remote schools could give hope to poor rural children.
The secretary’s cavalier attitude towards the education problems on opening day is not encouraging to some 25 million public and private school students who trooped last week to over 46,700 public schools and some 12,000 private schools nationwide.
Of the 25 million students, 1.1 compose part of the pioneer batch of the senior high school (SHS) or K-12 program that was introduced in over 11,000 private and public schools all over the country.
And while the Department of Education (DepEd) praised itself for its preparation for the school opening this year, the militant group, League of Filipino Students, said the introduction of the SHS program had “worsened the decade-old woes of our education system.”
There you go: Luistro and the other DepEd officials do not know what is going on.