When what’s-his-name congressman came up with the suggestion a couple of weeks ago to extend education by two years, I posted an update on Twitter that what we need is better quality education and not an additional two years. I thought a short comment like that was all that the suggestion deserved — I so believed that nothing would come out of it.
Today, weeks later, what’s-his-name’s idea is all over the news.
I’m almost sure that the suggestion is something that owners of private elementary and secondary schools would welcome. Two more years means more earnings for them. But, aside from them, who else stand to benefit from a lengthier education?
Not the students, for sure. Off the bat, I can already think of three reasons — and I didn’t even need to exert any effort.
First, consider the shortage of facilities in public schools. And I mean shortage both in quality and quantity. Not enough classrooms, not enough desks, not enough books in the library (in some public schools, the library is just a library in name), not enough laboratory equipment, not enough teachers.
Picture a typical public school with finite resources — a perimeter, a specific number of classrooms in a specific number of buildings occupying a specific physical space. Let’s say that the school has a thousand students (and, sheesh, that’s a modest estimate when we talk of public schools but since this is just an example, let’s stick with a thousand students), half of whom are in the day sections and the other half in the afternoon sections (let’s not forget that some public high schools have evening sections). Let’s say the same number of students per level. We all know that with so many subjects, it is very difficult to cram everything within half the day. But there’s no choice. Either that or prevent half of the usual student population from enrolling. So, we already have a kind of half-baked education.
If two more years are added, without an increase in the per level ratio, there would be an additional five hundred students in that school. Again, that’s being conservative because with the rate of population growth, the number of new students every year does get higher. It’s a progression (at least in numbers because you can also look at it as a regression from the context of the ability to provide and acquire quality education). If there are a hundred first graders this year, chances are, there will be a hundred twenty next year. Congress snubbed the Reproductive Health Bill, didn’t it, so the population growth rate is not likely to go down any time soon.
Where will you put the additional students — the ones who should have graduated already? Schools are already crammed and we make the situation worse?
Second, where will the additional teachers come from? If there are no additional teachers (they get fewer every year as they continue to leave to work abroad), then, the current teachers will have to take in additional work load. What happens to overworked teachers? Do they become more or less effective? That’s a no brainer, isn’t it?
Third, what benefits can a student derive from two additional years if the same curriculum would only be extended? If two additional years means a mere repetition of what he has heard during the last ten years, what’s the point? In other words, if a student hasn’t learned to read and write and do his math after ten years in school, will he learn them in another two years if the same books and teaching methods are employed? Will he learn them in another two years in a school with the same dilapidated science lab and hole-in-the-wall library?
Fore sure, a suggestion to extend education by two years comes with logistics. Surely, there’s a budget proposal somewhere for the construction of more classrooms etcetera.
Now why can’t that money go into the upgrade of existing facilities — better libraries, better laboratories, free and better food for public school students, and better training for teachers with better pay too so they don’t get tempted to seek employment overseas as domestic helpers? Why can’t that money fund research to develop a better primary and secondary school curriculum that is more attuned to today’s realities? IN SHORT, WHY NOT MAKE THE QUALITY OF EDUCATION BETTER?
UPDATE on August 11, 2010 @ 11.09 a.m.
Below: A Facebook discussion on another perspective on the suggestion of extending basic education in the Philippines. Some names truncated for privacy reasons.