It’s time for a #BuildBuildBuild version for the mind

Published July 31, 2021, 12:11 AM

by Rj Nieto


RJ Nieto

We’re in a crisis. Kids can’t attend face-to-face classes. While some are lucky enough to belong in families that can afford to hire private tutors, the reality is that most parents in the country have no other choice but to teach their kids themselves. Yes, some less well-off parents can just wing it, but I bet many of them may have the time or the money to teach what’s arguably the most challenging subject in high school: Mathematics.

More than just parents who have to relive the nightmares they had during their high school Math days, I think the coronavirus pandemic opened everyone’s eyes to the importance of STEM education. 


Scientists, engineers, and mathematicians play a central role in today’s global battle against the virus, and we need as many of them as possible. The Philippines needs more scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. And one of the first crucial steps towards becoming one of those is knowledge in Algebra and Trigonometry.


That’s why I started Teaching Pinoy in early June 2021, where I give free online Algebra and Trigonometry tutorials to thousands of high school students using plain Taglish. It’s an earnest effort, it isn’t much, but it’s at least something. As I write this article, I have just finished Session 25 of Algebra and Session 09 of Trigonometry. At the rate things are going, I’ll be able to finish Algebra tutorials in a week or two, so I can start tutoring kids Calculus.


Each tutorial lasts an hour. I also spend half an hour for tech setup, another hour for preparation, and another half-hour for system maintenance. All in all, the Teaching Pinoy project consumes six hours of my workday. I think it’s grueling, especially since I am not really a teacher, just like many of the parents who tutor their children because of the COVID-era remote learning setup.


I am not blaming the Department of Education for this conundrum that today’s parents face. Nobody wanted that contagion to happen. And if there’s something that we learned from past pandemics, governments can never be sufficiently prepared for a disaster of this magnitude.


Instead, I would like to commend our teachers. I mean, I teach kids for only a couple of hours each day, and I feel like I’m going to throw up because of the amount of effort it takes to teach. That’s just two hours, which is nothing compared to underpaid school teachers who have to teach for six hours or more each day. 


To make matters worse, these same teachers are made to do tasks that are above and beyond their job description. They deworm students, man election precincts, prepare redundant and voluminous performance reports, and so much more, all on top of their herculean teaching load.

Quoting the late author Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his or her point of view and until you climb into its skin and walk around in it.”


What I saw over the past month or so is but a small peek of the daily life of a professional teacher. But with what little experience I’ve gained, I can’t help but gasp in awe at the diligence, skill, talent, and tenacity of our teachers who do so much more than I do.


I think it’s time for us as a nation to rethink how we treat our professional educators. Teachers deserve better pay. Teachers deserve better working conditions. Teachers deserve a fairer workload. 


I agree that we are a lower-middle-income country, so we shouldn’t expect first-world treatment. But I believe that crucial to effectively educating our youth is taking care of those who take care of them. 


I don’t really know how the government can find the money to make our teachers’ lives easier, but I think we should more proactively find a way to do so. 


I am happy that the government, through #BuildBuildBuild, is taking care of our physical infrastructure. Still, I think it should also consider taking even greater care of the country’s intellectual infrastructure: education.


Yes, we already have free Tertiary Education, thanks to the political will of the Mindanawon President and both houses of Congress. But it still isn’t enough. 


I dream of a Philippines filled with homegrown scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, who can solve today’s problems and also those that will come. 


But for that to happen, we have to fully enable those who enable our youth: we have to find a way to help our teachers. 


The youth are our future, and the future of our youth is in our teachers’ hands.
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