Wednesday, April 01, 2009

School Choice: DepEd Bureaucracy, Classroom Language

About 2 years ago, I met a Canadian couple, retired, voluntary missionary workers, living in some God-forsaken municipality in Busuanga island, Palawan. Coron is already far, but their town is 3 hours from Coron because of the bad roads.

I met them in Manila through a friend, Jules. The couple wanted to buy high breed goats in Luzon and bring the animals to their town to help the folks there (goat milk, meat, clear grasslands, etc.).

They have to change their project. Their original project was to build a school -- for every young folks there, but still free. Their missionary in Canada has some money to finance and sustain such project. They choose a school project because according to the man, "I haven't encountered a single high school graduate in that municipality who could answer me correctly, what's 8 x 4? Or any other simple multiplication!"

Noble project, right? So they went to Puerto Princesa and Manila, Department of Education (DepEd) offices, to fulfill certain requirements how to put up a school. And to their surprise, they were given a kilometric list of requirements and certifications before they can put up a free school for poor people who were greatly "served" by government schools. They were so turned off by the bureaucracy they abandoned the school project.

The couple went to Paradizoo farms in Tagaytay, I and Jules joined them. The goats there were really high breed, healthy and can give lots of milk and meat compared to the native goat varieties. But the price were outrageous, they did not buy any goat there. When we parted ways, they planned to visit Laguna, even Quezon to look for other farms that can sell good quality goats at cheaper price because they plan to bring several pairs to Busuanga.

Most government bureaucrats hate competition, especially from efficient competitors. Maybe in their minds, the DepEd bureaucrats were thinking, "what if these guys can produce good quality students at no cost to those students, our public schools there will be ridiculed? The taxes and perks that support us might be endangered!"

School Choice and Classroom Language

The old debate of what language should be the medium of instruction in Philippine schools keeps on resurfacing. There are 3 dominant groups and lobbyists: the English group, the Filipino or Tagalog group, and the vernacular group.

I strongly believe in more personal and parental responsibility, I do not agree with many public policies that ask for "more government responsibility". Education is primarily parental responsibility, but with the triumph of forced collectivist thinking, we all now believe that education should be government responsibility.

I also believe in diversity, not uniformity. People like diversity, that is why there are millions of t-shirts designs, jeans designs, running shoes and basketball shoes, etc. With diversity, individuals express their specific preferences and desires, as well as express their financial constraints.

With more government role, there is more uniformity and very often, with uniformity comes closely mediocrity. Pull down the most ambitious and the brightest and pull up the laziest and the zero ambition people. Then there will be equality and uniformity in society.

The use of whatever language in elementary education should never be a public debate. The old and current debate on what should be the main language as medium of instruction in schools, is a debate among different type of dictatorial tendencies.

Whoever wins, the losing dominant groups plus many other minor groups will feel unhappy. The will of the strongest lobbyists will prevail over others, and parents will have to send their children to public schools whose medium of instruction they are not happy with. Even if the vernacular group will win, it’s still not as democratic as proponents would want to show.

For instance, in my home province, Negros Occidental, Hiligaynon or Ilongo is the main language spoken and understood by most people. So the provincial or regional education department will order that Ilongo will be the medium of instruction for public elementary schools, say at least until Grade 3. But there are 4 or 5 cities and municipalities in Negros Occ. that are Cebuano-speaking. So the people in these places will be unhappy and may not understand the Ilongo language that will be used in the schools.

Only private schools catering to private and differing needs of parents and their children can sufficiently respond to such needs. If many parents want to have their elementary level children learn Ilocano or Cebuano or English or Mandarin or Arabic or French or Spanish or Ilongo or Waray, etc. etc., then there will be schools that will be more than willing to provide ALL such services at varying prices and standard of teaching. So there is no need for language dictatorship.

Parents would usually don't give a heck much about money, so long as they can provide good education for their children. They can work long hours, earn big, and send their children to the "best schools" as they define and perceive it. But government hates this. If parents earn big, the first thing that governments will do is confiscate a big portion of their income, then chop-chop the money to various services that politicians and bureaucrats, not the parents themselves, think are "important".

So to my mind, the “solution” to whatever language will be the medium of instruction in schools, is not what the politicians, education bureaucrats and other pressure groups would want it to be, then ram down the “winning” language on the minds and philosophical biases of parents and their children.

The solution is to have a wide variety and diversity of schools offering their own brand of education and using different medium of instruction to cater to the needs and educational training of parents and their children.

The Department of Education can be shrank to possibly only 1/5 of its current size, allow more private schools, from nursery and elementary to tertiary levels. Government can move to voucher system, or move to drastically cut income taxes, allow parents to keep more of their monthly and yearly income, and bring their kids to schools they think can give their kids the best education they want. Whether it’s a science and math school, or arts and culture school, or sports and ballet school, or Asian or European language school, etc.

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