I believe everyone agrees that education is a great equalizer, but in order to serve that purpose, education, in the context of the right to education, should be adequate. Adequate education means it is available, acceptable, adaptable, and accessible. Access is further understood within these dimensions: nondiscrimination or accessible to all, physical accessibility, and economic accessibility or affordable to all.
In the WEF plenary today, Indonesian President Yudhoyono mentioned that the “percentage of poor in universities is very small”. To address this, the Indonesian government, within its strategy of economic and social mobility for all, introduced the following innovative measures: calibration of university tuition fees, that is, students pay according to their economic circumstances, abolished university tuition fees for poor students, and a modest subsidy for their living expenses.
Philippines can learn from the Indonesian strategy. Last year, the nation was stunned at the news of one university student who committed suicide over her inability to pay her tuition on time. The incident briefly opened the eyes of the public to the realities experienced by students whose families are struggling to send their children to school. Every year, tuition is raised yet the general incomes of the masses remain relatively unchanged thus every year the goal to get their children to school moves farther and farther from their reach.
Tuition fee (only) in the private schools for primary level students starts at twenty-five thousand pesos and this is a conservative amount. On top of this, there are the books, uniforms and related, school supplies, school lunch and snacks, transportation fare, and the like. No laborer working seasonally, with six other young children, could ever afford to put his child in, say, a Montessori school. So he puts his children in the public school, but however public schools at present are assuring parents and communities, no public school going child has experienced a Montessori-type of classroom environment, which begs the question how are public schools providing their students the leverage they need to compete on equal footing with the more privileged others? To what extent has public money spent for public education provided children from the masses a head start in life?
Drop-outs happen even at the early years of primary level when supposedly it’s the time when young children are beginning to know the world that is school. There are several studies on drop-outs in the public schools, and there are several reasons given why children do so, but financial constraint remains among the top, even among CCT recipients. How? A CCT recipient receives around more or less PHP2,500 monthly, and this recipient and her husband are laborers, have six children, all school-aged. What can they do with PHP2,500 ? We go to the grocery and are surprised that a thousand pesos pay for only a few items of toiletries and maybe three tins or so of non-premium sardines, and these are for how many days? Many children go to school hungry and are forced to drop out to help put food on the family table. In their world, survival always trumps up education.