28 November 2009

What gives, Bicol Mail?

WHILE waiting for the rice cooker to do its thing, I checked the Bicol Mail website this morning, hoping to see its latest issue -- which hit the newsstands yesterday -- already online. I got my wish. So folks, here goes another serving of what I hope will be this blog's weekly ritual: Say that again, Bicol Mail?, putting its resident angry old man under the microscope once more. This week's piece?

Pushcart classroom

EFREN PEÑAFLORIDA, who was named CNN Hero of the Year for his “pushcart classroom” in the Philippines, has contended that even a poor man can provide basic education to poor children, share his gift of education more meaningfully in communities where the concern of the local government has been found wanting. This requires an initiative and an unflinching dedication despite difficulties. Such a spirit of sharing does not expect any award in return.
Our editorial writer starts well, and rather innocuously. But the phrase "local government" flashes a warning sign: isn't public education the primary mandate of the Department of Education and by extension the national government? Uh-oh. I'm afraid the bias is showing this early.
The “pushcart classroom” idea is less appealing than the School Board to any of the more enterprising minds in the local government of Naga, known nationwide for being innovative and being first-among-equals. But with the honors Efren Peñaflorida is reaping throughout the country and the world, it will not be surprising if the local government of Naga will join the bandwagon of those who are honoring the pushcart hero. Peñaflorida is a good name to be associated with today as the national elections are just around the corner.
I didn't know he's already dabbling in fortune telling. Let's see if the city government, through the sangguniang panlungsod, will take the bite. Personally, the accolades coming Efren Peñaflorida's way is more than enough; the bigger challenge is learning its lessons and actually applying it.
Already Malacañang, in trying to make up for its shortcomings in education, has announced that the Order of Lakan Dula, one of the Philippine government highest honors awarded to a civilian who “has demonstrated by his life and deeds a dedication to the welfare of society” would be conferred upon Peñaflorida. In a press statement, Lorelei Fajardo, deputy presidential spokesperson, even said the government was willing to extend financial aid and other forms of assistance to help Peñaflorida expand his groundbreaking program on education.
A statement of fact, which needs no disputing.
Fajardo said Peñaflorida’s program was a good example of how the private sector could “augment whatever inadequacies the government may have.” This is a shameful statement coming from a government mandated by the Constitution to insure the education of children. A government that gives excuses for its inadequacies in education or passes the blame to others for its inefficiency or cannot take responsibility for any outcome does not have the right to discharge that mandate or to operate as an agency of that government.
He hits the nail right in its head on this one.
In Albay, Governor Joey Salceda has sounded instructions to the provincial council to pass a resolution conferring the highest provincial award on Efren Peñaflorida, giving him a cash gift of P250,000, and making him an honorary son of Albay. The province of Albay has all the moral right to honor Peñaflorida in as much as the province has always a good word for its teachers, has annual awards for outstanding teachers, and has open arms for teachers rejected by another division for alleged inefficiency due to the poor ratings of their division in the National Assessment Tests.
So far, so good. Which only goes to show that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. As a footnote though, let me say for the record that the City Government of Naga, the regional partner of Synergeia Foundation, has been helping the towns of Libon and Tiwi pursue their education reform projects. Incidentally, these are two of the five finalists for the first-ever Kadunong Award that seeks to recognize the most outstanding Albay LGUs with education programs. And one of them will go home next month as grand winner of the search. (Disclosure: I took part in the final judging representing the city government and Synergeia.)
Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect for the teaching profession and more, for teachers who have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return. He has achieved more than what Manny Pacquiao has. Peñaflorida has been combating ignorance not in 12 rounds of face-bashing in a ring but in the streets, day in and day out, without banking on a hundred-million-dollar kitty for the bout winner.
Now, this is somewhat a stretch. Come to think of it, Peñaflorida's outstanding achievement actually indicts the formal schooling system (i.e. the DepEd) in the country, where certified members of the teaching profession, including those whose names carry an alphabet soup of academic titles after them, lord over.

Distinction should be made between the formal, which employs close to 500,000 public school teachers, and the non-formal (now popularly known as alternative learning system); Peñaflorida belongs to the latter. The failings of the former actually creates the necessary preconditions for the latter, and magnifies Peñaflorida's achievements to heroic levels. When 3 of every 10 Filipino schoolchildren entering Grade I fail to reach Grade VI, you need a strong ALS to catch these dropouts and give them a second chance. But in the same breath, it means that the formal public school system -- and the whole certified teaching profession underpinning it -- is falling short of the standards.

For the sake of accuracy, it should restated as: "Efren Peñaflorida has brought honor and respect to the alternative learning system, whose teachers have given their whole life in teaching children the proper values without expecting any award in return."

Maybe he's just confused. Or is it a case of deliberate confusion? The last two paragraphs will provide the answer.
The Naga City Local Government’s indictment of the inefficiency of former Division of City Schools Superintendent Dr. Evangeline Palencia during her stint in the city begs the issue whether it has the moral right to honor Peñaflorida. The premium importance the City of Naga gives to ratings in assessment tests in school more than to learning values for life shows that the educational system in the city has much to be desired. This inanity cannot be covered by seeking the transfer of Palencia to Ligao City or by giving honors to Peñaflorida.
Clearly, it is still all about Naga, and the editorial writer's obsession and consuming desire to badmouth its local government. I think this unmistaken obsession has forced him to wittingly or unwittingly twist facts, like (1) the confusion between formal and alternative learning systems, (2) and the confusion as to which level of government is responsible for public education.

This unhealthy preoccupation with Naga has in fact put on a dangerous set of blinders on Bicol Mail itself, for an editorial supposedly speaks for the paper as a whole. For a paper that purports to be "Bicolandia's only regional newspaper," all it can see is the city government of Naga, when there are six other provincial governments, six other city governments and 107 municipal governments in the universe of Bicol LGUs.

This dangerous obsession compels one to ask: What gives, Bicol Mail? Certainly, there is more than meets the eye here.
The system implemented by the city with a highly charged School Board has fared poorly. The pushcart classroom of Peñaflorida could be the better system.
Sadly for him, the editorial writer seems to have been so punchdrunk with bitterness towards City Hall that he has yet to snap out of his world of make-believe. Garo iyo ang narugado ni Pacquiao, bakong si Cotto.:)

Hello! The last time I checked, (1) it is still DepEd running the public school system, in Naga and in the entire country; (2) we don't need pushcarts in Naga to provide ALS services, because we have mobile teachers, ALS classes and sub-contracting arrangements with local schools, particularly the Universidad de Sta. Isabel, (although data shows that while ALS coverage has improved from 20 to 36%, three of every five OSYs have yet to avail of its services); and (3) we will only consider mass investment on Peñaflorida's pushcarts if DepEd-Naga and our local institutional partners finally admit they cannot get the job done.

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