(This is the first version of the essay. It is a follow up to the piece on Nick Joaquin.)
Operating under a scholastic philosophy that gives emphasis to personal formation that is considered at par with academic endeavors, my university provides for community immersions that teach students specific social concerns through experience. In one of these immersions, I was able to join a select number of college freshmen in a three-day in house experience with grantees of the outreach scholarships from the university.
Breaking off the promise of social awareness among the participants, I went with the general atmosphere of excitement over a two-day Zamboanguita, Bukidnon vacation. Looking back at that aspect of the immersion, majority of the students picked up fun memories of rural adventures and peer flirtations instead of the expected personal change in individual social paradigms. Yet, despite this reality, there happened to be a minority. I was accidentally one of them.
My host was a grade 5 student named Edil John. He was noticeably among the poorest of the scholars at the sight of his dilapidated house that leaned dangerously close to a cliff. He lived an hour’s walk from the school. Having no electricity, he had to study with a very yellow light from a crude lamp. If not for the relative ‘short distance’ of his school and his grant from the university, he’ll surely end up being contractual farmers like his parents.
3 days and 2 nights of sharing Edil John’s life exposed me to the condition of the poor that had the least of everything. Yet, what really surfaced and stayed in my societal consciousness and personal conscience was the state of rural education that I clearly saw at Edil John’s academic life.
Rural schools, like Edil John’s, are inaccessible to a lot of students due to their distance. Educational materials like books are limited thus, shared in groups. There are few teachers who are forced to accommodate an average of 44 students in one class. Even the Philippine government only spends 3.23 percent of the Philippines’ GDP for the allocation of the education budget. Given these problems, I can immediately be excused at my surprise towards Edil John’s parents who called him lucky. They claimed that during their early years, schools were nonexistent in far flung barrios like theirs.
In spite of the ever existent problems in the educational aspect of this country, it is worthy to note a man who made a step towards the realization of education for all Filipinos. By doing so, the potential of the greatness of the spirit that is inherent to all may be inspired to pick up where Pedro Tamesis Orata left off.
Perhaps it was a combination of experience and vocation that made Orata the great innovator of education that he was.
Like Edil John, he had to walk from his house to school. Only for Orata, it was a 4-kilometer walk during his 4th grade and a weekly 11-kilometer walk on his 5th and 6th grade. As was the case during his time, he had to go to Lingayen, the provincial capital municipality of Pangasinan, to attend the lone high school there. Grateful for the privilege of his education that was supported by his sister and father, he developed a healthy and productive interest in his studies. Thus, the barrio boy graduated valedictorian.
From the old-style bamboo bank of his sister, Orata was able to travel to the United States of America to equip himself with higher studies. He entered the University of Illinois simultaneously preoccupied with his studies, his language immersion learning of English and his work. Subjected to that kind of difficulty, it became a wonder to him why he graduated with honors for his degree in Bachelor of Science in Education. Through the help of a University scholarship and a Philippine government allowance, he finished his master’s degree in Educational Research. Then, he pursued Educational Psychology at the University of Chicago. Finally, he obtained a doctorate degree in Philosophy of Education and Educational Research at the Ohio State University, with honors.
These impressive curriculum vitae would’ve earned Orata a place among the great Filipino academe. Yet, he wasn’t contented with the experience of education. He made it a vocation.
Having experienced the difficulty of having high schools and colleges in provincial capitals alone, he opened the first high school outside a capital in 1945 at the City of Urdaneta. This first step extended to a train of barrio high schools that covered a total of 43 provinces and 6 cities.
Orata was also the architect behind the conception of community colleges. He built the first one in Urdaneta in 1966. Following the concept of community colleges that encouraged the locals to contribute to the sustenance of the schools, he made preschools available to poor rural students through the introduction of the community preschools.
Going through how this one man turned his experience into a vocation that made him innovate the earlier depression of the Philippine Education sector, I found inspiration, hope and challenge.
Orata’s outstanding performance in school was borne out of respect for the privilege of his education. This aspect of his life reminds me that I too am privileged enough to go to school given that one out of 10 Filipinos have never gone to school. Thus, through a simple mechanism called societal conscience, I believe that there is no reason for me to fall behind the maximum potential of my academic performance. Yet, beyond this, Orata is inspiring because he utilized the privilege of his being educated to promote education as what it should be; a basic right. This kind of inspiration brings so much hope.
My Zamboanguta immersion at Edil John’s place shifted my social paradigm into many concerns, especially a concern for education. It is true that I left Zamboanguita with a dream that I may become a teacher someday. Yet, Orata taught me how a teacher could be more than just a teacher. With the immensity and significance of his innovations, I am given the hope that, indeed, I can do something to improve the quality and accessibility of education to many other Edil John’s.
At the end of it all, Orata did not cure the many problems of Philippine Education. It can even be said that when he left, more problems emerged. Yet, his example is a challenge in itself. He was just a poor Filipino barrio student before. In spite of that, he revolutionized education so that it may cater to the marginalized.
The long list of great Filipinos across history assures me that greatness is largesse. If they did it, why not me?
Sources: 1. Philippine Education In Crisis Powerpoint Module of Kabataan Party
2. Pedro Tamesis Orata (http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/index.php)