On involvement of schools in political activities

​There are several lessons to take away from the recent anti-Marcos burial protests. I’d like here to focus on the involvement of the universities.

But, first, definitions. When we say ‘University of the Philippines’, it must be understood to mean as the corporation which is a separate and distinct entity from the faculty, studentry, etc. The corporation, under the law, is represented by it’s Board. In UP, by the Board of Regents chaired by the Chairperson of CHED.

Also, policies. Related are, (a) that University of the Philippines (Republic Act 9500) is a State funded national university, (b) it is tax exempt, due to it having been established for charitable or educational purposes, and (c) prohibition of partisan political activity by government agencies, SUCs, civil servants as found in EO 292 (Sec. 55), RA 7160, and Omnibus Election Code.

Based on the above applicable definitions and policies, the UP faculty and students who went out on the streets actually did so in their individual capacities, as private individuals. They are not ‘University of the Philippines’, the corporation or organization because only the Board could represent it (and even if they wanted to, they are prohibited under law).

But what happened was, the faculty and students did not distinguish themselves and their actions as separate and distinct from the ‘University of the Philippines’. They failed to provide the necessary disclaimer. They have even utilized the University’s/corporation’s assets- buildings, statues (essentially paid for by the Filipino people) for their protest despite the University having it’s applicable policies such as in the usage of IT resources.

That was not the first time it happened because to Filipinos, ‘University of the Philippines’ the corporation or organization is equated to left-leaning anti-government activists ie. students and faculty such that many concerned parents would rather not send their children to the University if they can help it. This is a misrepresentation of the corporation, a misnomer that unfortunately got stuck in people’s minds.

But anybody who has read RA 9500 will know that the University was not established to be anti-government nor symphatetic to just one ideology. In fact, the law says it is a partner of Government. Are State funds being used against itself? Why nobody from the corporation, it’s Board of Regents, or the Government ie. Congress has pointed this out or conducted an audit is confounding.

Second, tax exemption which not only applies to UP, being an SUC, but also to the private universities. The law has provided this special exemption to the extent that the activities of these institutions are for charitable or educational purposes. Once they engage in activities outside these as for example secular politics the exemption can be forfeited. Then they have to pay taxes as any political organization does. Hence university Boards via management take care that political activities ncluding beliefs of faculty, students, unions, volunteers, etc. are not taken as the university’s and that there are school policies covering such.

These ethical and legal considerations not only extend to this country’s educational institutions. These are standards across the world.

Why so? For one, the individual’s right to vote, political affiliation, or any other individual rights cannot be unduly influenced and owned by institutions (schools, the church, etc). That would be violation of liberty. The public school, especially the public university, is a place for all young people, regardless of beliefs, seeking knowledge and enrichment in which such knowledge is gained through collegial engagement with others who are not necessarily on your side of the argument. By this, knowledge grows in the way it must, benefiting everybody, society. When the school unduly directs it’s population toward just one aspect of a story, it becomes just another oppressive narrow minded place.

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“Ask what you can do for your country”

With the theme “Elections 2016: Count Me In” these forums aim to take a critical minded, solutions-oriented and proactive approach to youth participation in elections through issues-based discussions, idea generation for youth and government collaboration projects, and discussions on the kind of leadership we want for the next administration and how we can develop that in the youth.

Forums will take on issues in fields such as Education, Employment, Health, Environment, Business and Economics, and Peace. These will be discussed by an array of speakers in a program wherein the youth can also participate in the discussion by offering solutions that target issues in these specific fields.

The event will also discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, enabling delegates to come up with a ten-point agenda they believe the Philippines should tackle in 2016-2022. All youth opinion outputs will be consolidated and forwarded to the event partners.

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Date: January 19, 2016

Venue:  University of Baguio Gymnasium, Baguio City

Deadline of Registration: January 12, 2016

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Evaluating with children Part 2

Children are also the most enthusiastic group, once they’ve warmed up. I once visited a school in Davao City for a lesson learning study for a client organization. The school was among the beneficiaries under the client organization’s technical support for the national K12 program. It had augmented the school’s inventory of learning aids as an integral component of a teacher training series.

After introductions in which I felt welcomed by their smiles and easy manner, the class proceeded to demonstrate the use of these materials in their subject lessons. I could see that the children have mastered the games and are ready to learn new ones. Their eagerness and zest soon made me forgot my discomfort from the morning heat. At intervals, the teacher, using a portable microphone, had to bring back order to the group.

In the afternoon, I interviewed three pupils from the class. Observing and listening to them, I’m once again reminded of the fact that children, when allowed to be themselves and supported in their growth, are really smart and have naturally sharp intellect.

A common sense solution to school absenteeism

I like this op-ed piece posted on The New York Times today:  It’s How To Get Kids To Class: To Keep Poor Students in School, Provide Social Services, by Daniel J. Cardinali, President of Communities in Schools that is running the program he mentioned.

The pattern often starts early. Last year in New Mexico, a third-grade teacher contacted the local affiliate of Communities in Schools, the national organization that I run, for help with a student who had 25 absences in just the first semester. After several home visits, we found that 10 people were living in her two-bedroom apartment, including the student’s mother, who had untreated mental health issues. The little girl often got lost in the shuffle, with no clean clothes to wear and no one to track her progress. Nor was there anything like a quiet place to do homework.

Embarrassment and peer pressure turned out to be the most immediate problem. By buying new clothes to replace the girl’s smelly old ones, we were able to help her fit in and get her to school more often. We found additional community resources for both the third grader and her family, including a mentorship group, a housing charity and mental health experts for her mother. As her home life stabilized over the second semester, the absences all but stopped, and at the end of the year she moved up with her class.

Her situation is common, but there are nowhere near enough happy endings. That’s because policy makers usually treat dropout rates and chronic absenteeism as “school” problems, while issues like housing and mental health are “social” problems with a different set of solutions.

To bridge this divide, our community school model seeks to bring a site coordinator, with training in education or social work, onto the administrative team of every school with a large number of poor kids. That person would be charged with identifying at-risk students and matching them up with services that are available both in the school and the community.

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

Indeed, and again, it takes a whole village to raise a child.

Greening the dorms

Colleges and universities here have once again increased their tuition fees and CHED has approved it (read here and here).  This was met with student demonstrations at the national capital.  The students have a point.  I think that students (and parents) would think twice about protesting the hike if there was clear and justifiable reason not to.  If CHED listens a bit more, what the student protesters are actually saying is, beyond the amount of tuition, students (and their parents), if they were to pay the increase this school year, want to get back their money’s worth.  In other words, is there a checklist CHED uses to approve tuition hike?  If there’s one, what are the items on the list?  If I’m the student, I’d look for improved facilities, such as green dormitories.  I mean, with , say, PHP50,000 and more a year in tuition, excluding dorm fee, a student expects (her folks as well)  to sit and live in-school less like a rat.

Schools argue that the tuition increase will partly fund facilities improvement but to what extent do the schools intend to improve them?  Students (and parents) want significant improvements, not just the usual repainting here and there.

Resilience building in a changing climate also extends to schools where children and young people practically spend their entire waking days in.  Incidences of asthma and skin diseases in the country are high among this group.  Given the time duration this group spend in school and learning centers, a researcher can assume, and test it, that it is highly probable that school- rather than home-based factors are in question.  More so when students also spend their nights in-campus.  Are school buildings safe? Are they designed with students’ needs in mind?  Do they meet international standards?  Are their buildings LEED certified?  These questions should be in CHED’s checklist.  No school should be allowed to raise it’s tuition when it does not meet learning standards, which includes those applicable to the physical learning environment, the school buildings.  Morever, minimum (standards), in the context of DRR and CCA or resilience building, now means school buildings conform to disaster and climate resilient standards.

A few examples here:

University of Bradford, The Green

It boasts energy usage monitors, solar-powered water heaters, extra insulation for heat retention, rainwater ponds, recycling facilities, sustainably harvested timber, low-energy fittings, and low-flow plumbing fixtures, among other features. Even better, it’s designed to promote community among the students, offering great outdoor garden spaces around the building.

Pomona College, Stontag and Pomona Hall

Built to house 150 students, the buildings are beautiful modern structures of glass, wood, and steel, but they have some pretty amazing eco-friendly features under their sleek surfaces. Some of the highlights include solar hot water heaters, solar panels, high efficiency windows, lighting, and HVAC systems, low-flow fixtures, rainwater recycling, an underground parking lot, a green roof, native landscaping, and recycled and local construction materials.

Warren Wilson College, Ecodorm

The dorm is very small, housing only 36 students, one R.A. and one R.D., but offers a living situation unmatched by any other dorm on campus. Aside from the green features, the building is unique in that caged pets are allowed and there are two full-size kitchens and an outdoor garden where residents can grow food. The building itself is home to solar panels, a large rainwater collection system, high-tech insulating panels, recycled and salvaged materials, and low emissions paints, helping it earn its platinum certification.

Affordable education

education
via WEF

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.

What if taxes were spent on where it should?

The reason why developed countries like Norway are ‘developed’ is that taxes go where they should and institutions (e.g. rule of law, accountability) are in place and largely running as they should; which is why they have high school buildings such as this

Vagen High School, Sandnes, Norway via designboom

Whereas here because public officials steal taxes by the billions each year, Filipino children make do with this sorry image of a school building.   What differences can you make out in the two educational environments?  And the government is a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of Children!  And we say quality education is the State’s priority!

school building via deped region 5

Shame to these public officials!  But more shame to a system peopled with accomplices who perpetuate ignorance among Filipinos especially the young!  Instead of taxes going to much-needed and long-overdue upgrade of public school buildings (many that are standing were build during the American occupancy post WWII!), these were used to buy various personal luxurious properties!  

What evidence is the court waiting for before it starts the formal trial rolling?  What evidence is the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee planning to squeeze out of the whistleblowers before it can already make a decision?  How much longer is justice being denied to this nation of 90M+ by these few corrupt individuals?