Two crucial professions in crisis

Published October 15, 2019, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Joey D. Lina
Atty. Joey D. Lina

In any society, nursing and teaching are undoubtedly among the two most vital professions to take care of the physical and mental wellbeing of people.

It’s the teacher who nurtures young minds and who first open children to a world beyond their homes. And it’s the nurse who serves the sick in this country where as much as 7 of every 10 impoverished Filipinos die without ever seeing any health care professional.

Teachers in both public and private schools help shape the intellectual prowess of students, particularly those in pre-school and grade school levels where young minds are taught not only how to read and write, but even how to think.

So crucial are teachers in basic education as studies show that if after Grade 3 a student is still unable to absorb lessons, the inability can last for one’s whole life. It is the teachers’ patience and persistent efforts that help develop and strengthen the mental faculties of the Filipino youth, as well as their values formation and character building.

Heartwarming stories are countless about the sacrifices of many public school teachers in poor communities – how they go out of their way to ensure pupils keep coming back to classrooms and don’t go astray, how they even share food or shell out their own money to help students who go to class hungry and without any “baon” or snacks, how others endure untold hardships just to teach in far-flung areas.

Amid the heroism of teachers are many issues hounding their profession. Issues include low pay and huge disparity in salaries between public and private schoolteachers, poor quality of education, low proficiency of some teachers and dismal results of Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET) for a decade now.

A study of the Philippine Business for Education (PBED) showed that since 2009, the passing rate of teachers averaged only 31 percent, way below government’s 53 percent target passing rate, and “behind the average passing rate of those who took up medicine, the sciences, maritime, engineering, accountancy and agriculture.”

“Pag mahina, mag titser na lang (If one cannot excel, just be a teacher)” was how many view the teaching profession now, according to PBED executive director Lovelaine Basillote. Poor quality of teachers logically results in poor quality of education. In 2014, PBED said that a general aptitude test among college freshmen who mostly graduated from public schools “found that only 3 percent were ready for college.”

“A deeper analysis of the results showed that most were entering college with only Grade IV to V reading and math competencies. The overall mean percentage score of fourth year high school students in DepEd’s 2011-2012 National Achievement Tests was 48.9, when the goal was a score of 75. The scores were 46.37 and 40.53 for mathematics and science, respectively. These are all evidence of a weak basic education system,” PBED said.

Regarding compensation, public school teachers’ salaries are low if compared to that of policemen whose rates were doubled. An entry-level public school teacher now gets a basic monthly salary of P20,754 – roughly two-thirds of the P29,668 received by the entry-level policeman, soldier, and other uniformed personnel. But compared to counterparts in many private schools who earn merely P12,000 to P15,000 monthly, the pay of public school teachers is already high. Yet more pay is needed to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession.

“Raising the disparity in pay between public and private school teachers would further fuel the migration of private school teachers to public schools and exert financial pressures on private schools whose tuition fees are regulated by government,” according to a recent statement of professional and business groups that include the Makati Business Club and the Management Association of the Philippines.

As to the nursing profession, the Supreme Court last week had good and bad news. It ruled that government nurses are entitled to higher pay, but said getting it won’t happen without a law providing funds for it.

The SC “declared as valid Section 32 of the Philippine Nursing Act” which said “the minimum base pay of nurses working in public health institutions shall not be lower than salary grade 15.” It sided with Ang Nars Party List that went to the High Court in 2015 because government nurses received salary grades 10-11 when former president Gloria Arroyo signed Executive Order 811 in 2009, based on Joint Resolution No. 4 that allowed her to modify government salaries.

A salary grade 15 reaching P31,545 to P33,279 monthly could be quite high compared to that of nurses in private hospitals who get only from P12,000 to P22,000. Some private hospitals in the provinces, according to published reports, pay their nurses as low as P8,000 a month. But while salary grade 15 is high, it isn’t as high as what other nurses earn overseas – about three to five times more.

The huge disparity has caused a nursing brain drain with around 92,000 Filipino nurses leaving to work abroad between 2012 and 2017. A severe undersupply has resulted in the local scene, compelling nurses who remain here to be overworked with more patients, causing these nurses more stress which makes them decide to leave too, aggravating the shortage with the nurse to patient ratio reaching around 1:40 in some hospitals, a far cry from the ideal proportion of nurses to patients at 1:12.

Many horror stories abound from the worsening shortage. The group Filipino Nurses United said that many nurses “work under dismal conditions, get starvation-level wages with no job security, no benefits and in many instances even work as ‘volunteers’ with no pay just to gain hospital experience.”

The crises confronting the teaching and nursing professions ought to prompt government to do more to avert a worsening situation.

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