New Internationalist

Education dilemma: two bookshelves for 200 pupils

It was still dark when we started a six-hour drive to a public school somewhere in a province north of Manila. At about the same time, the little boys and girls of Longos Elementary School were probably on their way to school already.

A narrow unpaved road from one of the major highways in the province led to the school. Muddy rice fields lined both sides of the road. The air was fresh and crisp in this part of the country.

But there was nothing refreshing with what we saw.

As with most public schools in the Philippines, Longos Elementary School is in dire need of government attention, state funds and political will. While the condition of the buildings is relatively better than in other public schools in far-flung areas around the country, there is still a lot of improvement needed.

There were only two bookshelves in the library, with only a handful of books shared by almost 200 students. A tropical storm battered the province in 2009, leaving most of the books in the makeshift library drenched and damaged.

And there we were, four journalists representing the country’s organization of economic reporters and editors. Our daily grind of covering the economy consisted of interpreting financial statements, reading between the government’s fiscal data, understanding the budget, monitoring monetary policies and reporting the latest inflation figures, among other stuff.

But what we saw in front of us needed no interpretation or mathematical computation.

The situation was stark and telling. It was a vivid portrait of the economy.

The school building needed renovation. Some classrooms were dilapidated. And only two toilets were to be used in a school of 190 students.

School officials lamented the situation but were helpless about it. Politicians only visited them during campaign season but never returned to fulfill a single pledge when the elections were over, they said.

We brought three small boxes of second-hand books and a few bags containing school supplies. It was part of the organization’s regular outreach activities. Even if we wanted to bring more stuff, we had very limited resources. The supplies were probably all used up by the following week or so.

And even if there were a thousand more organizations such as ours, we still wouldn’t be able to fill the gap in the country’s public educational system.

What is needed is the government’s strongest political will to prioritize education. This means that every centavo earned from the taxes of the people would go to the necessary social services such as education and public health, and not pocketed by some corrupt politician, lawmaker or government official.

Until this happens, the country’s public education system remains as tattered and worn out as the blue and red Philippine flag that waived with the wind that Friday afternoon when we bid goodbye to the students of Longos Elementary School.

Photos by documentary photographer Jes Aznar.

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  1. #1 kidd whanau 19 Jul 11

    Great Article that hits at the heart of the matter. My family did some volunteer work in Negros Occidental with the Christian brothers, and we are returning in October with resources for students who are struggling and books for the libraries. In the school libraries there, the only books in the library were old textbooks!

  2. #2 Giedre 20 Jul 11

    A dilemma indeed: a new car for a corrupt politician or a textbook for a pupil? Hmm, it's a tough one!

  3. #3 Iris Gonzales 06 Aug 11

    Thanks for the comments. It's really a ’dilemma’ here in the Philippines. Education is a rampant problem in the Philippines and corruption has a lot to do with it.

  4. #4 ged online 21 Oct 11

    Your post have the information that is helpful and very informative. I would like you to keep up the good work. You know how to make your post understandable for most of the people.

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About the author

Iris Gonzales a New Internationalist contributor

Iris Cecilia Gonzales is a Filipino journalist and blogger. At present, she covers economic news for a Manila broadsheet, but she also writes other stories here and there. She has been blogging since 2004 on various issues including women and children and human rights. She is among the winners in the TH!NK 3 global blogging competition organized by the Netherlands-based European Journalism Centre.

You may email her at [email protected]

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