STATEMENT: Education for All

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We, Guilders, campus writers and member publications of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), stand in solidarity with young people everywhere as they press for our right to quality and affordable education for all.

We stand opposed to the Aquino administration’s education policies, which are a continuation of those followed by previous governments.  Neoliberal economic policies have led to the deregulation of tuition fees and a slash in public financing for State Colleges and Universities (SUCs) nationwide, leading to their effective privatisation. Including Private Higher Education Institutions (PHEI), 451 colleges and universities out of 1,800 raised tuition and other fees (TOF) last school year alone.

These fees have been rising every year over the past decade, negatively impacting the lives of millions of working class youth and their families who make up the majority of the population, and who bear the heaviest burden of nearly constant price hikes in other basic goods and services.

We hold the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) in particular, as the main administrative body responsible for such matters, accountable for its failure to promote fair and equitable access to quality education, as set out in its mandate.

CHED has been weak in the enforcement of its own recommendations, such as the need for universities to consult all stakeholders (students, parents, faculty and staff) before even attempting to raise tuition fees.  Indeed, CHED has only recently revised its guidelines – before 2012, consultations were not mandatory – and has yet to set out any clear framework that would justify tuition hikes; leaving the matter instead to the discretion of university administrations under the Education Act of 1982 or Batasang Pambansa 232.  Meanwhile, it has remained silent on issues students have brought to its attention, including violations of campus press freedom.

Deregulation of tuition fees, the privatisation of education institutions, higher rates for basic services that increasingly must be bought or paid for. These trends, we are told, are supposed to improve “service delivery”, raise wages for teaching staff, or even promote access to higher education. In practice, these policies entrench inequality, restricting access to quality education to all but a few.

Quality, affordable Education from elementary to college has effectively been put out of reach of the majority of the country’s population.

Our youth are still in desperate need of books, classrooms, school buildings, teachers, a curriculum catered toward the needs of national development – to say nothing of gaps in public provision of other social services.

At this the Aquino administration wrings its hands and tells us there is no money to invest in them, without “support” or “partnership” with business interests.

In reality, government funds are more than sufficient to cover all short-falls in the public education system at all levels, just as there are more than enough resources at the government’s disposal to invest in universal social services – from healthcare to public housing.

The Aquino administration’s failure – indeed its refusal –  to do so is in line with the government’s general neoliberal thrust toward promoting a stronger role in “education management” for the private sector.  As in public health and welfare, its approach to development is hands-off and market-oriented, at the behest of corporate interests who have jumped at the chance to join the bandwagon of privatisation.  Already, big tycoons and private construction companies are preparing to replace the state in its responsibility to provide education and health for all. The risks of allowing profit-oriented interests to take over these crucial social services – erstwhile public goods guaranteed as basic human rights – are clear.

The suicide of UP-Manila freshman student Kristel Tejada last year, her family too poor to pay for her tuition fees, bears witness to a silent crisis in the Philippine Education system.

For some, the Academe represents one of the final bastions of sanity in an otherwise ‘commodified’ society, where everything, including the basic right to education,  is bought and sold and restricted to those who can afford it.  For others, it is a business opportunity. The commercialisation of education has taken over in a society where the market is seen as all-efficient and all-powerful – the end-all and be-all of economic development agendas.

The sad reality of the Philippine Education system stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the Constitution (Art. XIV, Sec. 1) which states, unequivocally, that access to quality Education, at all levels, is a right of every citizen of this country. A right to be actively protected and promoted by the State, as a public service crucial for  genuine economic development and an enlightened society.

But while the Aquino administration claims to be addressing these glaring problems, its policies remain profit-oriented and skewed toward addressing the needs of the world market, not the needs of our people on the ground. A nominally higher allocation to the education budget this year consists mostly of risk assurances to private investors in the construction of new school buildings and curriculum development, and is overshadowed by a dearth of spending in other areas: school books, classrooms, basic utilities and basic supplies, teachers’ wages and training.

Under the banner of “international competitiveness”, the only opportunity on offer for our youth today is the opportunity to sell their labour for cheap abroad;  or to leave their families, and possibly their dreams, behind in a country that simply cannot  provide for them.   These are the signals sent by the government’s K-12 programme and its latest decision to prematurely align the academic calendar to fit international standards.

It is for this reason that the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), as the oldest, widest and only-existing alliance of tertiary student publications in the country and Asia-Pacific, reiterates its demands that the State: (1) stop all tuition and other fees increases (TOFI) in both SUCs and PHEIs; (2) that it boost public subsidies for the education sector at all levels; and (3) that it roll back policies that are a Trojan horse for the commercialization of education, including CHED Memorandum Order No. 3, series of 2012 and the Roadmap to Public Higher Education Reforms (RPHER).

Finally, as student publications, we assert our right for genuine campus press freedom.

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