By Jorge F. Zamora, Managing Editor
The price tag of education
Education is not a right but a privilege: this is the harsh reality of the education system here in the Philippines.
As our country’s premier state university, we expect free education from UP funded by taxpayers’ money. Sadly, quality education comes with a price tag and sometimes, the price is too costly to pay. In Kristel’s case, the elusive UP education cost her to take her own life, her future and the lives she could have changed.
What happened to Kristel is one too many. This is a representative of the existing condition of underprivileged UP students. Paying 300 pesos per unit or roughly P6,000 per semester on top of miscellaneous and other fees is already a fortune for a poor family of six.
UP is for all. The institution should give equal opportunity for qualified students whether one is rich or poor. Kids born with a silver spoon on their mouth can easily afford quality education but for some students whose parents should first till the soil, sell properties, pawn jewelries and borrow some money just for a day’s allowance, the dream of UP education seems distant.
Socialized Tuition and Financial Assistance Program (STFAP) is UP’s answer to level the playing field between the rich who can afford to pay in full, and the poor who can barely buy school supplies. A form societal justice as may be viewed by some. Nevertheless, it still is a form of social discrimination between economic standings.
For UP students who can afford the soaring tuition fee, all they have to do is to pay the full amount. For those who can’t, they have to undergo a long and tedious process applying for STFAP and wait for the result, until mid-semester perhaps. With extensive requirements before the coveted STFAP approval, some documents would require resources before it can be obtained, another burden for an isko and iska’s family, only to find out they were declared millionaires by the flawed STFAP bracketing system.
Giving up is a choice
Beyond the faulty policies and lack of government support, we also have to look at the soaring suicide incidents committed by the youth. Adversaries are everywhere but the youth of today is looking for an easy way out. I don’t blame Kristel. She’s young and anyone driven by depression could have done the same thing. But it’s a choice. Maybe what she lacked is the spirit to go through adversaries in an era where everything is handed easily.
What could have helped her aside from financial assistance is counseling. But how many UP students would willingly talk to guidance counselors? Does UP even provide one? If so, do students know they can avail sessions with guidance counselors?
UP has a “survival of the fittest” culture. The freshman Kristel did not even finished her freshman year because of depression driven by poverty. Maybe, what UP freshman survival kit should include is how to handle life’s hostilities.
Who’s to blame?
Fingers have been tossed too many times. It’s time to move on and address the issue at its core. The government for the longest time who disregarded the value of UP education should allot enough funding to this state-run university. This has been the battle cry of students not just from UP, but from other state universities and colleges as well. As future leaders of this society, the government owes it to the students.
On the other hand, UP policies deemed anti-students are already under scrutiny and immediate revocation of these oppressive rules should be implemented by UP administration. After all, they owe it to the students.
Leaders running the university should also look for scholarships where students can apply for. It isn’t hard to do for a school with good academic reputation. There are lots of creative ways how UP can help its financially challenged students on how to continue their education. They just have to use their wits which they abundantly have, no doubt.
UP has the right to exercise self-generating income schemes. Idle lands have been leased and UP entered in some contracts to help accumulate income for the school, but demanding rich students to pay more is extortion. It is like saying “give us your money or else, you will be denied education.” As far as we all know, UP is for smart students whether you’re rich or poor. The real answer for quality education is higher state subsidy from a government run by countless UP alumni.
If UP alumni serving the government cannot even fight for a greater state subsidy, then what’s the use of having a UP education when you cannot even pay it forward? Education is a privilege not a right. This is a fact but it doesn’t mean that we should accept it because if we do, Kristel’s life which is connected to our system, culture, society and ultimately ours too, will all go down the drain.