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COMMENTARY: Why Tagakolu children can barely read or write despite attending school

MALITA, Davao Occidental (MindaNews / 09 January) — It is indeed good news that the take home pay of government teachers will increase this year due to the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) Law and the 3rd tranche of the Salary Standardization Law. According to the Department of Education, government teachers will be receiving a net increase of “16.21% or P2,792.03 per month.” Their chalk allowance will also increase from P2,500.00 to P3,500.00 while their clothing allowance will increase from P5,000.00 to P6,000.00. A teacher without dependents with Salary Grade 11 will receive, starting 2018, a basic salary of P20,179.00 and a take home pay of P20,012.89.

Molding the minds of the future of our nation is fundamental and all-important. Teachers should indeed be properly compensated for their invaluable contribution to nation building.

In the mountains of Malita, Davao Occidental, this good news will only be for teachers. The increase in their pay, regrettably, is not directly proportional to the quality of education they offer. Even with this increase it will be business as usual as it always has been. In some areas that just happen to have roads, a great majority of teachers would arrive each week just before noon on a Monday and then leave Friday morning. In places where there are only foot paths instead of roads, children would probably have classes the equivalent of ten full days each month on average.

And yet all these teachers will be receiving full salaries like they had actually worked the whole school year! This is not a recent development but a practice that has been going on for many years even before the creation of the province of Davao Occidental.

There are a handful of teachers and principals, however, who struggle to keep their oath as professional teachers despite the current culture in the larger community of government teachers. They do their best to be “licensed professionals who possess dignity and reputation with high moral values as well as technical and professional competence in the practice of their noble profession, and … strictly adhere to, observe, and practice this set of ethical and moral principles, standards, and values” (from the preamble of the Code of Ethics for Professional Teachers). These principled teachers and principals deserve the increase in take home pay. Sadly, they are few and far between in Malita. They are also the very same people who are least appreciated and are often given the cold-shoulder by their superiors and their peers.

It has always been the complaint of Tagakolu parents that their children can barely read or write despite attending school. I have heard on more than one occasion teachers insinuating that the brains of Indigenous Peoples like the Tagakolu have difficulty adapting to academic learning. If ever Tagakolu children in Malita have difficulty reading or writing, it is not due to cerebral deficiency but due to the shoddy teaching practice in government schools here and the deficient work ethic of their personnel.

Parents who are brave enough are able to complain. To air one’s grievances in Malita, or in the province of Davao Occidental for that matter, is no mean feat; it is even more difficult for the Tagakolu. They are very often not listened to. If there were occasions that they had been listened to, it would have been more to humor them during election season than to actually come to their aid. Those who would be more persistent would either be bribed or coerced into silence. If one were to examine the running of government schools in this municipality, it would strike one as more akin to that of a group involved in systematic felony than to that of an institution aimed at serving the needs of society.

Teachers need to be properly compensated for their invaluable contribution to nation building through the education of our young. However, this increase in take home pay of government teachers is an injustice to the Tagakolu families in Malita and their children as they are consistently deceived into thinking that they are receiving proper education as mandated by Philippine law when they are actually not. And the agents of this deception are the numerous erring government teachers here who will also be benefitting from this take home pay increase.

I laud the government’s consistent effort to adequately remunerate the labors of government teachers. I, however, call its attention to the great disservice that is being done to the next generation of Tagakolu in Malita by those who ought to be preparing them for the future: please, I beg you, take the necessary action to weed out these erring teachers as soon as possible and impose upon them, to the full extent, the appropriate disciplinary action as provided by law.

The promise of change has not yet come to Malita; no one knows if it will ever come. We have had very much of  the same since the elections in 2016 and even the elections before that; nothing much has changed. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul wrote, “The worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5:18). The many erring teachers in Malita do not deserve this increase let alone their salaries. They do not deserve the misplaced adulation of the Tagakolu learners entrusted to them; they do not even deserve to be called “teachers.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Fr. Joey Gánio Evangelista, MJ, heads the Malita Tagakaulo Mission of the Diocese of Digos in Davao del Sur)

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