We seem to be, at least briefly, in a period of relative routine at the moment, meaning our lives are dominated by planning, teaching and marking, which is, primarily, what we are here to do. Hopefully, by the time we leave, the students we teach will be marginally better at maths, and marginally more confident English speakers, and perhaps more importantly we will have written a teaching programme adapted to their situation and needs which will be able to be taught here after we leave.
Maybe because it is something of which we all have first hand experience, maybe because deep down we all recognise its central importance, education is something which generally incites interest and comment from, well, just about everybody. It is something that I, as a teacher, am of course very interested in, so prolonged contact with the education system here has given me plenty of food for thought.
On a global scale, the Philippines track record on education is fairly reasonable. Free, public school education is widely available and over 90% of children finish primary school, many of whom also complete high school. A system of state "night high schools" running in the evenings for students who have to work during the day, extends opportunities to those who might otherwise be outside the system. A closer look at the figures does show that the near 100% completion rate in Manila distorts the figures which range downwards to only about 30% in parts of rural Mindanao, but even so, the figures here are not as bleak as in numerous other countries.
All of the students we teach have made it through the basic education system, and emerged as high school graduates. For some, this in itself is a considerable achievement. TVED is the next stage, an opportunity for further education, which is the educational domain dominated here by private institutions and therefore for many students, including ours, prohibitively expensive.
As can be expected in any education setting, the ability of our students varies widely. Natural intelligence, of course, has a role to play. That said, as students who have "graduated" from high school the number who lack even the very basic skills is astonishing. How have so many of our students reached their late teens or early twenties unable to do simple calculations? Why did I spend a session teaching a 24 year old to count backwards on his fingers, something he appeared never to have seen before?
I haven't actually visited any public schools. I am sure some of them are doing an incredibly good job with very limited resources. I am sure there are some outstanding teachers striving to their very best for students in circumstances I have never had to contemplate. Obviously I don't know the many issues and questions which contribute to the difficulties of the Philippine Education System, nor is it, really, my place to judge. That said, I suspect an inability to fund the education system as fully as is needed, leading to huge class sizes and limited resources is probably a factor. I also doubt that the education system is exempt from the endemic corruption for which the Philippines is renowned. I have no easy-fix solution to offer, but it is certainly true that, whatever the causes and whatever the solutions, a lot of young people are being failed by this system.
Meanwhile, I certainly have no illusions about the British education. I do not think it is perfect. I wear no rose-tinted glasses. In fact, like most teachers, I can quickly identify many of its flaws and have experienced first hand its many frustrations. Our system's insistence on a results driven syllabus which can be measured by how many students can tick a certain box, and the valuing of individual academic achievements at the expense of everything else are, in my eyes at least, barriers to achieving perfection: the perfection of a system which inspires every student with a love of learning and a sense of their own inherent worth.
And yes, I know there are children who have been, and who continue to be failed by British education, which, in one of the most "developed" nations in the world, remains a scandal.
But somehow, I'm not sure we always appreciate enough just how good we have got it. So, even with a Conservative government claiming that I "am happy with failure" because I think academies are a really bad idea, even with Michael Gove at the helm of Education; we do still have an education system of which we should be proud. Not proud so we don't strive for something better, but proud so we don't forget to appreciate what we already have.