2014: A year of shrinking chances at education for the Filipino youth

BULATLAT SPECIAL REPORT:

The continued commercialization of education and attacks in schools in the countryside shows how the Aquino administration values the Filipino youth. It doesn’t.

By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – As the commercialization of education continued in the fourth year of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III, the Filipino child’s hope of finishing studies and preparing for a bright future gets gloomier.

Whether primary or tertiary, access to education becomes a distant dream, as the price of schooling rises along with the cost of basic needs.

In mountainous and far-flung villages where basic public education has yet to reach the children, religious and cause-oriented groups have initiated alternative schools duly recognized by the Department of Education. However, instead of supporting their contribution in providing basic social service, the government has tolerated the attacks perpetrated by state forces against these schools in the countryside.

What changes has the Aquino administration brought to the public education system? Four years on, has there really been a change under an administration that promised to take the righteous path, to bring change to the grappling poor population and to change the rotten, corrupt system of governance?

Abdicating state responsibility

In 2011, Aquino declared that the budget for state universities and colleges (SUCs) would be gradually reduced to push them toward becoming self-sufficient and financially-independent. It was stated in the administration’s Roadmap to Higher Education Reform (RPHER), one of the objectives of which was “Rationalizing resource utilization and maximizing resource generation by SUCs.”

The progressive student organization National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) said the RPHER pushes “SUCs to maximize income-generating schemes, including land leases and partnerships with the private sector, with the end goal of having 22 leading SUCs that are capable of sourcing 50 percent of their budgetary requirement to internal income by 2016.”

The 22 leading SUCs include the University of the Philippines System and Philippine Normal University among others. This objective of RPHER manifested on how government allocated budget for the said universities:

table_budget_2014

The same also goes during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo where the budget of SUCs was notably reduced. This was also in line with the Long-term Higher Education Development Plan (LTHEDP), which aimed to make SUCs self-sustaining.
Under Arroyo’s LTHEDP, income-generating projects were started in 50 SUCs and by 2010, tuition should be gauged to levels comparable to private SUCs.

Under the RPHER, the Aquino administration’s target is for SUCs to raise funds for 50 percent of their budget needs and to implement socialized tuition fee in 10 SUCs including the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).

In July, the PUP administration attempted to increase the P12 ($.27) tuition to P100 ($2.24) or an 830 percent increase. This was strongly opposed by the PUP studentry, which pushed the Board of Regents to defer the tuition increase.

The PUP is the go-to university of the poor, providing education to the sons and daughters of the working class. The PUP system, which has more than 20 campuses in the country, has more than 70,000 students.

But this did not stop the PUP administration to generate more income for the university. It imposed “other fees” which are higher than the tuition. In Bulatlat.com’s report, other fees such as Sports Development fee, the Student Information System fee, cultural fee among others are collected from students.

(Dollar conversion: P12 or $.27, P691 or $15.46)
(Dollar conversion: P12 or $.27, P691 or $15.46)

Also in July this year, the University of the Philippines implemented the Socialized Tuition System (STS) that replaces the Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP). Students of UP strongly protested against the STS asserting that it is a de facto tuition increase.

From having a default Bracket A amounting to P1,000 ($22) per unit in academic year 2013-2014, default Bracket A for academic year 2014-2015 under STS is pegged at P1,500 ($33).

According to the Office of the Student Regent, in STS students are granted tuition discounts, ranging from “full” with stipend to “no discount”, according to household income and assets. However, this does not include students enrolled in the Open University or in a second degree program who pay without any discount.

John Neill Macuha, UP Student Regent asserted that the STS is a form of tuition increase because students are now forced to apply for STS to avail of tuition discount “because students can no longer afford the tuition in UP.” Add to that the numerous other fees such as laboratory fees, athletic fees, medical fees among other fees collected from the students.

Bulatlat.com was given a copy of the registration form of a fourth year student of the College of Arts and Letters in UP. Here is how much he paid for in first semester academic year 2014-2015.

Tuition – P27,000 ($604) (P1,500 per unit x 18 units)
Misc. Library – P1,100 ($25)
Athletics – P75 ($1.68)
Registration – P40 (.$89)
Medical – P50 ($1.12)
Cultural – P50
Internet – P260 ($6)
Energy – P425 ($9.51)
Student fund – P100.50 ($2.24)
Others – P3 ($.07)

TOTAL – P29,103.50 ($651)

Macuha filed a motion to the Board of Regents on July asking the Board to adopt the findings of the Study Group on Admissions created by UP President Alfredo Pascual entitled “Democratizing UP Education” where one of the findings identified “high tuition and other fees as one of the reasons why the number of students coming from the poor sector of the society are getting smaller or why they are being ‘edged out’ of UP.”

The study recommends the implementation of a uniform and affordable tuition “befitting UP as state supported institution for higher learning regardless of socio-economic class.”

“If the ‘Iskolar ng Bayan’ (people’s scholar) is to be maintained and promoted, there should be no socio-economic divide between and among UP students,” said the study. “STFAP and now STS became anti-poor despite the earlier claims that it was to make UP education affordable for students admitted into UP, particularly those coming from poor families.”

The study also said that the state must not abandon its support to higher learning. It cited the Philippine’s ASEAN neighbors such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia are putting premium support to tertiary education.

“It must be stressed that Thailand is now supporting five national research universities, investing 31 percent of the education budget to tertiary education. For the 2014 proposed national budget, the Philippines is only spending about 11 percent of P31.9 billion ($713 million) for the entire 111 SUCs which include UP. It was 15 percent in 2006.”

It added, “Investment in education is a sure way to inclusive growth. Diminishing it shall lead to ‘education dynasty’ of the well-to-do families of Philippine society.”
Other school fees

If schools cannot easily increase tuition due to strong opposition or the process that include students in the consultation, a quick and almost not so noticeable incoming generating project is the increase in “other school fees.”

This 2014, the Rise for Education Alliance has gathered reports from different schools complaining about “dubious, redundant, exorbitant and onerous other school fees.”

In violation of Memorandum Order No. 3 series of 2012 of the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) – which required “all higher education institutions” both public and private to conduct consultations before raising tuition – many schools unashamedly added unnecessary other fees.

Sarah Elago, national president of NUSP and convener of the R4E, said that other school fees have surpassed the cost of tuition in all universities and colleges in the country. Other school fees, she added ranged from P1,000 to as much as P25,000 ($559).

The R4E assert that tuition as the fee of instruction that is paid per unit load of a student should already cover everything that is related to instruction, such as syllabus development, testing and exam fees. Enrollment costs, which are part of a school’s operations, are also passed on to students through registration and matriculation fees. There are schools offer an installment plan and charge an additional installment fee for it.

(Dollar conversion: P13,400 or $300, P890 or $20, P7,983 or $179)
(Dollar conversion: P13,400 or $300, P890 or $20, P7,983 or $179)

“As for the lack or nonexistence of facilities and equipment, schools have turned to the collection of development fees as a quick fix. Development Fee and other types of it in different names (e.g. Physical Infrastructure Development Fee, Sports Development Fee, Arts Development Fee, Power Plant Development Fee, Academic Community Development Fee, Visual Aids Development Fee) are also collected in schools.”

The R4E also noted some extremely questionable and irrelevant fees. “Donations and charity fund should be pooled voluntarily but schools collect them as part of mandatory fees. Other school fees even include ‘special fees’ and to the extreme, ‘others fee.’”

“There are also cases when these other school fees are paid for by students even if they have duties, internships or on-the-job trainings off-campus. Millions of pesos are being squeezed out of our pockets for these fees, while, for profit’s sake, its collection has never benefitted the students.”

Collector of fees

While the wages of workers and government employees have not increased under the Aquino administration, the money collected from students through other school fees have steadily increased. A study of Kabataan Partylist showed that in a span of four years, the county’s 110 state universities and colleges alone were able to collect a whopping P13.5 billion ($302 million) from other school fees.

The study said that since Aquino assumed office in 2010, both tuition and other school fees collected from students of SUCs have steadily increased, with collection from fees apart from tuition doubling in just four years.

“The total income of the country’s 110 SUCs from other school fees grew by almost 60 percent from P2.6 billion ($58 million) in 2010 to an eye-popping P4.1 billion ($91 million) in 2013. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) even projects that collections from other school fees in state schools will reach up to P4.4 billion ($98 million) in 2015. This means that on a national average, each student enrolled in an SUC pays some P3,268 ($73) in other school fees annually.”

The study also revealed that tuition collections have also steadily increased.

Data from Kabataan Partylist
Data from Kabataan Partylist

“In 2010, SUCs were able to collect a total of P5.3 billion ($118 million) in tuition. By 2013, this amount increased by P1.7 billion ($38 million) or 32 percent, to reach a staggering P7 billion ($156 million). From 2010 to 2013, SUCs were able to collect a total of P24.7 billion ($552 million) in tuition fees,” said the Kabataan partylist study.

“In the past four years, students of SUCs have shelled out a total of P38.3 billion ($856 million) in tuition and other school fees,” the study read.

“This staggering amount is testament to how expensive education has become even in our public universities and colleges. It is clear that the policy of deregulation is very much alive under the Aquino administration, with tuition and other fees doubling in the short period of his presidency,” said Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.

On Nov. 27, the Iskolar ng Bayan Act or Republic Act 10648, which mandates all state universities and colleges (SUCs) to provide automatic admission and scholarship to the top 10 graduating students of public high schools in the country was signed into law by Aquino. The said law is said to benefit about 80,000 students annually.

But Ridon said the law will hardly make a dent on the spiraling college drop-out rates in the Philippines. Ridon said, “The new scholarship law will only cover a very small percentage of the 1.1 million students of our nation’s 110 SUCs. For the vast majority who won’t be covered by the law, the high cost of tuition and other school fees will remain as a great barrier to finishing their studies.”

“Even if we introduce a state-sponsored scholarship program, the fact remains that even in our state schools, education has become grossly expensive,” Ridon explained.

Deprivation of education

In November this year, it was not only the elders of the indigenous tribe who traveled from Mindanao to Manila to protest the continuing attacks on their community. The students of an alternative school – built for the indigenous children – also joined the Manilakbayan.

The students of Salugpungan Ta’tanu Igkanugon Learning Center Inc. (STTILCI) from Davao del Norte went to the Department of Education to demand the pull out military from their community.

Education Secretary Armin Luistro sat in a dialogue with the students and school administrators. But gave no definite response to resolve the issue.

The Save our Schools Network (SOS) reported that nine out 10 indigenous children have no access to education.

Soldiers from the 68th IB of the Armed Forces of the Philippines set up their camp in the community of sitio Nasilaban, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte. Photo by the Children's Rehabilitation Center as Nov. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Children's Rehabilitation Center / Bulatlat.com)
Soldiers from the 68th IB of the Armed Forces of the Philippines set up their camp in the community of sitio Nasilaban, barangay Palma Gil, Talaingod, Davao del Norte. Photo by the Children’s Rehabilitation Center as Nov. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Children’s Rehabilitation Center / Bulatlat.com)

“Majority of them are farmers living in the hinterlands, making accessibility to basic social services, particularly education, difficult. Elementary and secondary schools are usually located far from their communities. That is why indigenous children have to walk for hours every day just to attend their classes. These children have long been deprived of education, 90 percent of them have never attended school,” SOS said.

The Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) has recorded 52 cases of attacks on schools from July 1, 2010 to October 30, 2014 all perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

The SOS reported that soldiers tagged teachers of the alternative schools as members of the New People’s Army training the children to be combatants. Soldiers are reportedly going around the village where the school is located. Toting their firearms, soldiers often question children of suspected NPA members. These are reported cases to the CRC.

In some instances, the CRC said, harassment by soldiers on a school would last for a week.

“In sitio Nasilaban, the STTICLCI students also experienced the same incident. Drunken soldiers successively fired near Nasilaban Elementary School and high school campus of STTICLCI and their school farm from Oct. 11, 12, 15, 16, and 17. The STTICLCI school in Nasilaban is just across the camp of the 68th IB, forcing the teachers to suspend classes due to the fear and shock the firing sprees has caused them.”

Charlotte Velasco of League of Filipino students said that through the continued attacks on schools, the Aquino regime not only deny these children their right to education, but also rob them of their right to develop their potentials, and to participate in social change. (Bulatlat file photo)
Charlotte Velasco of League of Filipino students said that through the continued attacks on schools, the Aquino regime not only deny these children their right to education, but also rob them of their right to develop their potentials, and to participate in social change. (Bulatlat file photo)

On Oct. 27, soldiers burned a school after they ransacked and stole the supplies of a community cooperative store in Kabulohan, barangay Buhisan, San Agustin, Surigao del Sur.

The community members who shouted at the soldiers and ran toward the school to put the fire out were indiscriminately fired at by the soldiers. Another school building with two classrooms of the Tribal Filipino Program in Surigao del Sur (Trifpss), was also burned in sitio Kablawan.

“With the continued military presence in indigenous communities, Aquino further deprives Filipino children of quality and accessible education. Instead of addressing the lack of public schools in the countryside, the government only harms these indigenous children’s future and really deprive them of their right to education,” said Charlotte Velasco, spokeswoman of League of Filipino Students (LFS).

Velasco added that through the continued attacks on schools, the Aquino regime not only deny these children their right to education, but also rob them of their right to develop their potentials, and to participate in social change.

Velasco said with the continued commercialization of education and deprivation of basic education to children in the countryside only shows that Aquino can no longer hide its true intention: “To avert education to the poor and give it to only those who can pay, most especially to the capitalist educators who rake in profits from the students.”

Velasco slammed the continued implementation of neoliberal policies under the Aquino administration, which is the underlying cause of suffering of the Filipino youth.

Velasco said the youth movement vow to continue and intensify the struggle for the coming year. “We will not stop the struggle until the youth and the children attain their right to accessible and quality education. Soon we will attain victory through our collective actions.” ()

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