Editorial: Free education is not a dream

www.nordis.net

The Philippines has since been under the worst economic and social conditions. It is under these dire conditions that education has become the “greatest gift” a parent can pass on to their children. A college diploma is seen as a “gate pass” to the dream of escaping poverty. For years, families endure all kinds of sacrifice to access the much-sought out education, as the family’s valued “investment”.

This same philosophy has been used by the Philippine government as an alibi to abandon its constitutional-mandated task to provide accessible and quality education for the youth.

For decades, they have pushed millions of Filipino youth to the edge – deregulating tuition and other school fees, imposing billions of budget cuts, privatizing the education industry – ultimately making education no more than just a business for profit. Besides, as the excuse goes, “the poor families’ sacrifice for education is worth it”.

But no, the sacrifices are not for the Filipino people to endure. Education to begin with is a basic right. Indeed, it is an investment, but not just for the poor Filipino families trying to escape from poverty. The right to free and quality education is a step forward for a nation seeking national development. It is worthy of the investment of the nation not from the pockets of the minimum-waged earners and the jobless Filipinos.

The excuse of neoliberal agents in government that to allocate a higher budget for education may cause a “collapse” in our economy, will never be logical. Pork barrel, the infamous “corruption budget”, survived on billions from the national budget for decades anyway. Why can’t education get the same budget attention, or even more?

In fact, the Philippine government is the last to acknowledge this reality. The passing of the Universal Access to Free and Quality Education Act or RA 10931 last year is no “gift from heaven” or Duterte. It is the product of mass demonstrations and decades-long demand of the youth for free education. It was a right upheld by the youth for the Filipino people.

But the Duterte administration and its neoliberal cohorts in the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Unified Student Financial Assistance (UniFAST) continue to be numb and relentless at “innovating” maneuvers to deny the youth’s access to free education.

To name some, despite R.A. 10931, this Academic Year 2018-2019, the youth and students are still confronted with the collection of ‘minimal fees’, strict admission policies and the questionable Return Service System (RSS) which is a “free labor” service system imposed on students to “compensate” for the supposed free education. Students in the University of Northern Philippines and Cagayan State University report of being contracted to work 15 hours every week and were deployed to offices as student assistants. That working time computes to Php18,000 per semester which is even higher than the actual tuition cost!

Reports also reveal, among others that this incoming academic year, Kalinga State University (KSU) charged enrollees fees from Php 1000 – 2500; Mountain Province State Polytechnic College (MPSPC) and Benguet State University (BSU) institutionalized ‘registration fees’ for Student Council candidates. Cordillera SUCs also collect ‘penalty-type’ fees from students who are not able to attend college and university activities.

The economic policy of neoliberalism commodifies education, as well as the health care system and other basic public services. It is a program for liberalization of trade, privatization of social services, deregulation of prices and denationalization of industries.

It is what the Duterte administration is implementing to protect foreign interests at the expense of killing the Filipino people, to coup the youth’s potential for nation-building by dumping them into an expensive education system that breeds graduates for cheap and docile labor, and even for export.

The imposition of poverty and social inequality are used to divide us, desperately attempting to silence the rapidly rising united movement to break the manacles of abuse and domination. Needless to say, the fight for a genuinely free and quality education is far from over. In the final analysis, free education is never a dream, it is, a fundamental right that in unity must be upheld, asserted and enjoyed by all Filipinos. # nordis.net

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