100 years of quality education

SKETCHES By Ana Marie Pamintuan
The Philippine STAR
Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Many moons ago when I received my letter of acceptance to the University of the Philippines, my long, jubilant laughter must have been heard for two city blocks. Our family’s dachshund barked and leaped around madly, infected by my wild rejoicing.

It was a typical reaction to news that one had hurdled the toughest entrance exam to the country’s most prestigious university.

UP Diliman, with its vast open spaces, its acacia trees with spreading branches reaching out to each other across the main road, provided the ideal environment for learning and the free exchange of ideas.

It was not exactly quiet; college life is rarely peaceful. There were regular student protests against the Marcos regime. There were the fraternity wars; several punks once entered our classroom and smashed a bottle of Coke on the head of one of my classmates. Classes at the College of Arts and Sciences were often interrupted by yells of obscenities from a fraternity hangout. Left-leaning activists dragged students from toilets, forcing them to join protest marches.

Quality education does not fall into your lap; it needs both good educators and students who work hard to learn. That means piles of homework and endless hours at the library. In news writing class, the late Louie Beltran made us write lead paragraphs on the board so he could insult us in front of everyone and advise us to go back to high school English. We quickly got used to the terrorist tack and it toughened us up somewhat, though nothing ever prepared us for the challenges of actual news coverage.

But there were enough gentle educators, among them Raul Ingles, my professor in newspaper editing, and Che-che Lazaro, who shepherded me through radio broadcasting. Alex Magno, who taught Social and Political Thought, asked us to grade ourselves. If all professors were like him I would have graduated summa cum laude and qualified for full state subsidy. Still, even regular tuition at UP was so much lower than prevailing rates in reputable private colleges and universities.

Unlike in the exclusive private schools, only a few of our subjects were taught in air-conditioned rooms. Our toilets had no running water until Ed Angara became UP president. You could develop skin disease from swimming in the pool whose water was changed perhaps once a year, so I didn’t take swimming for physical education. And good food does not come in subsidized rates, so our cafeterias had nothing to brag about. There was a notable dessert that I learned to enjoy: a pineapple ring encased in a square of cheap green gelatin, with a few raisins at the center and topped with sweet mayonnaise. Bizarre combination, but I liked it. For P15 you could have lunch at the cafeteria with that dessert.

But even if it wasn’t the lap of luxury, teaching standards were maintained, and we knew we were getting quality education – our steppingstone to a better life.

My two brothers are also products of the state university. Today their children are also enrolled in UP, and we hope they will get the same quality of education that we received.

It is a quality that has disappeared from much of the public school system.

* * *

UP was set up a hundred years ago today by virtue of Act 1870 of the First Philippine Legislature. The UP Charter aimed to “provide advanced education in literature, philosophy, the sciences and the arts, and to give professional and technical training to every qualified student irrespective of age, sex, nationality, religious belief or political affiliation.”

The university has been true to its mandate: it has produced leaders in all fields of national life, and representing all colors of the political and ideological spectrum, from dictator Ferdinand Marcos to Communist Party founder Jose Ma. Sison and Moro National Liberation Front founding chairman Nur Misuari.

What has changed in the university is the income level of the typical student. “Socialized” tuition now averages P25,000 per semester, but the amount is not the only thing that is keeping away students from low-income families. Quality education simply has become a luxury as a succession of national administrations allowed the public school system to deteriorate.

With the exception of students in the Philippine Science High School and the UP primary school system, today’s children who are educated in public schools typically cannot compete with their more fortunate counterparts in exclusive private schools.

When vying for slots in UP, products of these exclusive schools generally have a wide edge.

Today there is an inordinate number of students from affluent families in UP. Their educational achievements make them deserving, but it would be a great day – for both UP and the country – when we see more graduates of public high schools from lower income families entering what is now classified by law as the national university.

Not too long ago the public school system provided the highest quality of education at all levels. The Philippines was seen as an Asian center of higher learning.

Today the Philippines is lagging behind its neighbors in the quality of public education, and the results are starting to show in the quality of our human resources.

Families that can afford it prefer to send their children to Ivy League schools. Think of how much national progress can be possible if the majority of Filipinos can get that type of world-class education starting from primary school in their own country.

Universal quality education levels the playing field for rich and poor. It helps create a merit-based society. It saves people from a life of dependence on state subsidies and dole-outs. It allows people like Manny Villar, a UP alumnus, to rise from poverty and realize their full potential.

It’s not yet too late to reverse the trend. Real national progress is achieved when UP won’t have much to brag about, because its quality of education would have become the norm in all public learning institutions.


  1. Yuko said,

    July 1, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I feel sorry for Filipino kids because they have not been blessed with leaders who really care for them. I understand that they have some semblance of some Child Welfare Law in the Philippines, but it is definitely not implemented. There was actually none made when I was a kid growing up in the Philippines. Kids of Manila then were just fortunate that they nad a mayor (Arsenio H. Lacson) who cared for them and declared all public schools in Manila free of charge for children who lived in the city and wanted to get educated. Still, there was none that would force parents to send their children to school and make them legally responsible if they did not.

    Now, it is worse, because the idiot would not even touch I am told the money collected and handed over to her by OFWs all over the world as funds for building classrooms in the Philippines. Worse is when the education secretary would not even be aware of the toilet problem of school kids in public schools that should in fact have been better than education in some parochial school.

  2. Yuko said,

    July 1, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I am a graduate of UP myself, and took up the required swimming classes, but I had never heard of the skin disease noted above when I was there even when the Philippine economy was turning for the worse duriing the tenure of office of the father of the incumbent power-grabber, who is actually my contemporary but was not accepted into the state university that there was I believe a lobbying for the removal of then UP President Cinco. Has UP deteriorated that bad since then?

  3. Yuko said,

    July 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    At least the author is amenable to the fact that UP has maintained quality education but I cannot help feeling furious at what she has written above regarding those amenities that she says UP did not have and students in private schools would consider inferior.

    I disagree because UP in fact during my college days had facilities and amenities no different from those of nearby Ateneo and Maryknoll. The only difference in fact was that UP had a superior and more quality education than any of those parochial schools.

    Take the toilets for instance. I remember staying a lot of time in the Ladies Room of the College of Liberal Arts for instance. I never remember the flush toilets there running out of water or getting clogged with UP in fact very near the water reservoir at Balara.

    I am flabbergasted in fact at the kind of deterioration UP has gone through as described by the author above especially with that legislation that should have assured UP special funding, etc. for its maintenance and reputation as “the state university, a citadel of truth.”

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