As a kid, I found first day of school was almost always a happy, exciting time. Except, of course, for the truly first day at kindergarten or Grade 1, which not a few cry about. But for the rest of our student days, most of us would look forward to rejoining friends, discovering new classmates, and escaping whatever’s happening in the house.
On Aug. 22, 2022, classes reopen again all over the Philippines in classic face-to-face fashion ever since the pandemic hit us. A toxic combo of incompetence and lingering pandemic effects have denied three batches of students such an essential experience. Monday’s resumption of classes and the start of school year 2022-2023 can only be a happy and exciting time for students and their parents.
I don’t know about you but I’m excited for our nation’s students. Filipino students should be in school. This is long overdue. It is time for Filipino students to rejoin the rest of the world’s students to return to classrooms and auditoriums, laboratories and libraries. The two-year experiment with so-called hybrid learning should be assessed and certain productive uses explored further, but it all should end. There’s no substitute for in-school learning.
I have nothing against government education agencies claiming that schools didn’t close. Ask at least three batches of kindergarten and Grade 1 students robbed of the school experience so vital to socialization and primary education. The government cannot even buy the best laptop for a price tag of around ₱50,000, and it is spending tens of millions of pesos for mobilizing the police to “secure” the school reopening.
The return of students to their schools have already benefitted the nation even before it happened: Parents can now refocus on going back to their jobs or looking for one. They can’t be part-time “substitute teachers” forever.
Moreover, the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board has overturned anti-commuter policy of the previous administration to ban jeepneys and restored the old jeepney routes. This is good news not just for students, but for all commuters. More public transportation modes is a victory for all.
Why stop there? The Metro Manila Development Authority and the local governments of Metro Manila should end favoritism for private cars and private motorists in the formulation of traffic policies. They should give more space in the public roads to public transportation.
The new administration should prioritize public education. This can perhaps be immediately shown by the president certifying House Bill 203 upgrading the entry-level public school teachers from Salary Grade 11 to 15, or a pay raise from ₱16,000 to ₱25,000.
Government should also consider expanding free tuition to postgraduate students in state universities and colleges. They could start this with public school teachers, those teaching at SUCs, and those serving in local governments.
Yes, the pandemic is still here. But the situation in 2022 is far better than in 2020. Vaccinations continue to be done, and this could only be improved if the government takes advantage of school reopening by doing mass vaccinations there. Minimum health protocols and vaccination could protect everyone.
We must confront and correct the fear-mongering mentality ingrained in us under the previous administration. We cannot be too scared of the virus, when vaccines have already become available to shield us from its severe symptoms and from certain death. If we find it fit for factories and stores to reopen, for night-life to be renewed, for political events such as elections and inaugurals to happen, we cannot reject the idea of students going back to school.
Yes, I cannot wait for students to study collectively in schools. There, they could study the basics and go to advanced studies. They could focus on history, art, literature, social sciences, mathematics, science and engineering. There they should also be free to examine the national situation, diagnose problems, and offer solutions. There, they could train and prepare themselves to be productive and revolutionary members of society.
Because that’s a big reason we Filipinos do whatever we do. We sacrifice, go extra lengths, sell the carabaos, get loans from loan sharks, demand more from authorities, and try to triumph over the pandemic and social maladies – to give our children and youth the education they want and deserve.