Education Equality in the Motherland

Since 1925, the basic education system in the Philippines has been surveyed and reformed countless times. However, such reforms haven’t exactly proved to be successful. The current Philippine education system, which was modeled to reflect the K-12 system in the US, continues to face much critique. Some argue for a decentralization of the basic education system by installing school-based management, as to cater to the needs of each particular socioeconomic environment and other influential factors. According to the World Bank, Philippine primary school enrollment is relatively high. UNESCO reports that literacy rates are also high. However, the education system continues to struggle with lack of resources, understaffed schools, and managerial and organizational issues. Secondary school enrollment is usually lower. As of 2012, the Department of Education (DepEd) made school compulsory. Though enrollment may be higher than it has been in the past, there is a severe lack of employment opportunity for after graduation.

Many activists and reformers are pushing for efforts to revitalize the education system, such as Teach for the Philippines; they continue to work toward education equality throughout the PI. However, how can a nation create larger, systemic change to a problem that countries face across the world?


The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967, is currently pushing for regional economic collaboration by 2015. Member countries include Brunei, Burma/Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia , Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It is even a goal to use English as the primary language of communication, which is why there’s a major push for language acquisition across ASEAN. However, according to a 2008/2009 report, the Philippine Congressional Commission on Education (EDCOM) notes that the country has a poor performance of improving the education system, unlike many other Asian nations. This creates even further concern for the future of the Philippines.

In addition to primary and secondary school reform, there is also a call to address higher education. As ASEAN promotes the movement of goods, services and labor between its member countries, the Philippine Daily Inquirer raises and important question: “What does this mean for our students who will be graduating from universities in a few years and will then be looking for work?”

As employment opportunities are already scarce, not just in the Philippines alone, but across the Philippine diaspora, I wonder what will happen to my friends and family. The struggle to find work continues to grow more competitive. Some of my relatives and family friends, despite attaining a higher degree back in the PI, are now domestic helpers or working in retail, for example. How is this fair, when such hardworking individuals are forced to find work outside of their expertise or training?

Many Filipinos have migrated, leaving behind families in search for work. Something must be done to reverse this “brain drain”, and I believe should be continuous support and investment in education. We need the youth of the PI and the larger Pilipino community to know we believe in them by providing them with the tools needed to succeed in a global community, and not just for economic gain.

Shame and Struggle: My Journey to Learn Tagalog

Utak muna ang gamitin mo, bago ang puso mo. (Use your head before your heart.) Lalabas na ang tunay na kulay mo! (Your true colors are beginning to show!)

Hayop ka! (You’re an animal!)

The expressions above (picked up from forays into the living room as my parents watch their teleseryes), random insults, the lyrics to this ‘70s gem, and phrases from daily conversation - these constitute my pathetic, hacked-up version of Tagalog.

Rachelle Ocampo, our UniPro President, says, “Every time I meet new Pilipinos and they ask if I understand Tagalog, I greet them with ‘Hindi ako marunong magsalita ng Tagalog pero nakakaintindi ako.’ They are immediately impressed, and encourage me that it is not too late to learn. My goal for this year is to take a Tagalog course and push myself to learn more phrases.”

Like Rachelle, I can’t speak Tagalog, but I can understand it. It’s a result of growing up in a household where my parents spoke enough Tagalog that my brother Marc and I knew when it was time to eat dinner and when we were in trouble, but enough English that it was still our first language. As a proud Filipina-American and cultural enthusiast of my roots, my inability to speak the native tongue of my ancestors is my scarlet letter, a shameful burden, an embarrassing thorn in my side that tears at my flesh each time my family speaks to me in Tagalog and I am forced to respond in English. As Marc puts it, “Identifying so closely with a certain culture and not speaking the language is like being that kid who wore vans but never skateboarded. At least that’s what I feel like: A big. fat. poser.”

"...my inability to speak the native tongue of my ancestors is my scarlet letter, a shameful burden, an embarrassing thorn in my side that tears at my flesh each time my family speaks to me in Tagalog and I am forced to respond in English. "

My ability to understand prompts many people to declare, “Well if you can understand Tagalog, then you speak it.” To which I respond emphatically, “It’s not that easy!” When I hear Tagalog, there’s no internal attempt to translate it. I just know what it means, even if it’s difficult to explain it in English. ("Ang kapal ng mukha" comes to mind.) But when I try to speak Tagalog - that’s another story. With no knowledge of any grammar rules, including tenses and pronoun usage, I grasp desperately at the few words in my vocabulary bank, taking ages to sputter out a few broken and laughable sentences. Unfortunately, “Lalabas na ang tunay na kulay mo!” is not an appropriate response in every conversation.

Some immigrant parents purposely don’t teach their children their native language so they’ll grow up Americanized, sparing them from the difficulties of learning English as a second language and having an accent. The thought process behind my parents’ decision to refrain from teaching me Tagalog didn’t go that far. In fact, there didn’t seem to be a decision at all. It simply didn’t happen. This has spawned eternal resentment from my end and the occasional tirade to my parents (“I could’ve been bilingual. Instead, I’m paying to learn a language I should already know!”), who respond to my tired complaints by rolling their eyes.

My best friend for the next few weeks.

"Language is the unique expression of a culture through sounds, words and the strange idioms and melodic inflections those sounds and words compose."

I can keep griping or I can do something to fill this linguistic void, which is why I’m currently taking a Tagalog class. Thanks to The Filipino School of NY & NJ, I’m enrolled in a five-week conversational course. It’s unrealistic to think I’ll be a pro in five weeks, but it’s a solid start. Again, like Rachelle, one of my life goals is to learn Tagalog, to converse fluently with my relatives, to speak confidently to strangers while getting around in the Philippines and to feel closer to my culture. Language is the unique expression of a culture through sounds, words, and the strange idioms and melodic inflections those sounds and words compose. To know another language is to have a gift, a skill, a key to another way of life through its lovely and complex verbal structures. In other words, it automatically makes you cooler.

It will take a lot of work, but I will learn Tagalog, despite the shame and struggle. Now excuse me while I do my homework and practice that simultaneously wretched and awesome “nga” sound.