It is hard to debate whether an Education is still a right or a mere privilege in this present-day Philippines. The government would always argue that it has found ways to provide equal chances for all, regardless of social stature, gender, age and ethnicity, to attain education, or in simpler terms literacy. Education is free in public schools and universities; there is Alternative Learning System (ALS), distance education, aside from an overhaul in curriculums recently.
Primary public education is free, supposedly. But we still pay for many things as primary graders. It may not be true to others, but from where I come from, were paid sums of up to hundreds in elementary school, including PTA projects, raffle draw tickets, school paper fees and more. These were supposedly voluntary. However, you need to pay for them if you want your clearance signed, which is another way of saying that graduating is also voluntary.
In high school, the same things happened; only you need a thicker pocket to pay on top of what you used to pay as a grade-schooler. There are club fees, intramural fees, year level organisation fees, student org fees, ID fees, library card fees…
Let me be clear, I did not complain about the system because I always thought I was lucky enough to be sent to school. Coming from a low-income family, there were times (most often than not), that I had to pay for these things beyond the deadline. The system was considerate. I never thought I was being denied of my rights anyhow.
On to college, an organisation graciously accepted me as one of its scholars. They paid for my tuition and other miscellaneous fees. Others I had to pay on my own. Of course, my parents had to shoulder the transportation, uniforms, a lot of projects, thesis expenses… so on. I am grateful that my father, though he was a humble construction worker, was able to send me to school without having to neither sell any of his organs nor get buried in debt. That is why I am lucky to graduate and find a work soon in order to pay them back.
I believe a lot of students have the same stories.
So it came to me as a shock how Kristel, the UP student, had to take her life just because she was allegedly denied a loan to pay her tuition fees. At first, I thought the media was just sensationalising the issue, but it turned out it was also what her parents thought. And the events went on like a chain, to students burning school equipment in PUP, to UP admin revising its student loan rules, to the Oblation wearing black cloth.
I cannot judge Kristel, or her parents, for being impatient with the system and with life. Maybe she had big dreams and lost hope early. She forgot that her dreams should have made her more driven, more patient to continue no matter what. The parents may have come short to provide her assurance that they will do what they can so she can continue her dreams. They may have misunderstood each other in the process.
I can’t help but put myself in the situation. There were also times when I thought of stopping midway in a sem because of short budget, but never did it come to me that I should kill myself.
Education is part of life but it is not life. I always talked to my family and friends about my problems, and got good advice. My parents were assertive and optimistic that we will carry on, they gave hope. And friends, they can always make you feel that you are not alone because they might just have the same sentiments or even bigger loads on their shoulders, and yet not losing hope.
The key therefore is to rise above the world. No matter how hard it may be, there will always be a shining beam of light on the horizon.
But then again, we only know a page of Kristel’s life. She was surely more than what we know about her. We may not even know what were running in her mind when she decided to go. And our guesses, opinions and conclusions may be far from hers. Only she knows. She and God.
Clearly, having an Education is a right, but it is a privilege to have an access to that right. But more than anything, having an education is a CHALLENGE, you either accept it or take another way.