I was fortunate to join an Education Exchange to the Philippines recently through Rotary International. I joined four other South Australian educators for a month of vocational and cultural exchange where we explored the Philippines Education system in order build both countries’ understandings of effective educational systems and practices. This involved meetings, visits, observations and discussions across the full spectrum of educational providers from early education to higher education in both the public and private sector. Our team also provided a number of workshops for groups of teachers and students around English language learning and effective teaching pedagogies with a focus on dialogue for learning.
Our group blog recounts our experiences each day and tries to provide an insight into the Philippines education system as well as a number of commendable Rotary projects aimed at improving the lives of children and families within the “depressed and disadvantaged” areas of the District (a phrase we heard used by many over there to describe low socio-economic areas).
At every school we visited, we were humbled by the dedication of the teachers.
As is the case in many countries, teaching is not a particularly attractive profession in the Philippines with a teacher’s wage only slightly surpassing the countries minimum national wage. Class sizes are huge. As in, ridiculously large – many of the public elementary schools have on average 70 students in each classroom with one teacher. In the large schools (some we visited had 10 000 students), the only way the school can service the communities population is to run in shifts, 3 shifts a day for around 3-4 hours. Meaning potentially an elementary teacher could see and be responsible for around 200 children a day. To sustain this and continue to smile, as every teacher seemed to, calls for unwavering dedication and motivation to make a better future for the lives of your students. A quality that humbled us every day, in every educational service we entered.
I was fortunate to meet two teachers called ‘Teacher Heart’ and ‘Teacher Honey’ at a school within a housing re-settlement area for “informal settlers”. We spent time talking and sharing our work contexts, the challenges we face and our vision for our students. They were amazed and touched, as the short snippet below shows, to hear that many of the challenges they face are the same as what we face in my work context and similar contexts. For example, attendance issues, health and nutrition problems and low parental support and engagement.
As summer vacation was about to begin, I asked Teacher Heart what her vacation would entail, in my mind, imagining her returning to her family in their home town for some well deserved R & R. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when she explained how they run summer school reading classes for the non-readers in the community. They do this voluntarily and explained it as their “community service”. This experience stopped me in my tracks. I imagined asking our teachers (or in fact, being asked myself) to stay back in Mimili (the remote community I work in) to run extra classes over summer. While I believe my colleagues and I are all passionate and hard-working teachers, I know there is little chance of that happening. Talk about living a life of service. Teacher Heart and Teacher Honey are both examples of the dedication and passion we saw throughout the Philippines. They truly amazed me.
Meeting them both and every other teacher we were fortunate to spend time with reminded me of why I believe teaching is the most important profession in the world. Furthermore, teaching requires the most outstanding people the world has to offer; people who are self-less, passionate, dedicated and enthusiastic for a brighter future. My belief in this was always strong but after meeting so many teachers here who epitomise these characteristics every day, I feel renewed to return to Australia and channel their passion for the start of our second school Term in the outback.
In this video, Teacher Heart speaks about “teachers having to be committed in doing our work to really help the children”. All of the teachers we met certainly do this. NB: at the 1.25 minute mark, the teachers sing us a blessing.