Second Thoughts; Teachers under the Gun

Article excerpt

Byline: Edilberto C. De Jesus

MELBOURNE - I had used the phrase in discussions with deans of education at a meeting on "Training Tomorrow's Teachers," convened on 4-7 June by the University of Melbourne. Unfortunately, what is normally just an expression, a figure of speech, is a reality on the ground during elections in the Philippines.

Philippine politicians routinely proclaim teaching as the noblest profession and teachers as national treasures and heroes of the republic. Many teachers have indeed performed nobly and heroically, as in last May's mid-term elections, when they sacrificed their lives to protect the ballot.

The latest example was Musa Dimasidsing, Maguindanao Schools District Supervisor, who had testified to election cheating in the province. Last week, assassins gunned him down in front of a schoolhouse. Only the Commission on Elections and politicians benefiting from suspect ballots entertain any doubts that the killing was politically motivated.

But it is the politicians who have placed Musa Dimasidsing and other DepEd personnel in mortal peril. For more than a decade, they have studiously ignored the clamor from the teachers, supported by the congressional Education Commission report in 1992, to relieve them from the obligation of staffing the polling precincts and managing the implementation of elections. But this is a subject for another column.

My comment in Melbourne on teachers being under the gun alluded to widespread dissatisfaction in many countries with their respective education systems. An illustrative, if extreme, comment came from Edward de Bono, the creativity guru: "Schools waste two-thirds of the talent in society. The universities sterilize the rest. Educators want to do what they did in school. They look backwards."

No country appears content with the quality of the graduates their schools produce. When students do not do well in their examinations, do not get accepted into universities, or do not find employment after graduation, it is easy to believe that teachers are somehow to blame. This is, of course, terribly unfair to the teachers; may as well blame the deans of education whose schools do not adequately prepare teachers for the job.

Every discussion on education reform and improvement inevitably takes up the issue of teacher training, tacitly recognizing that the performance of teachers and the education schools require review. But many factors that affect the outcome of the educational process lie beyond their control; it would be unfair to lay the failure of the education system entirely on their shoulders.

They do not determine, for instance, the status of the teaching profession. In many developing countries, teachers are typically underpaid and overworked. …