Monday, June 30, 2014

Find the missing

THIS is my last chance to get a son adopted by the state.

The thought flashed throughout an afternoon search for the two-volume set of simulated college admission tests I finally found in one of the boxes of books.

I bought the reviewers more than five years ago for the older son, then in senior high school. He took the University of the Philippines College Admissions Test (UPCAT), the Ateneo College Entrance Test (ACET), the University of San Carlos Entrance Test, and the De La Salle College Entrance Test.

He chose the tests, curious how he would fare. Privately, I hoped he would pass the UPCAT and study at my alma matter.

But after passing the UPCAT, he decided to enroll in a private university.

Now it’s my second and last chance to relaunch a campaign to get the younger son to take the UPCAT, pass it, and enroll in the state university. For his choosing, there is a wide variety of degree and non-degree programs in ten UP campuses around the nation.

But to be accepted in a degree program, an applicant must first pass the UPCAT in August.

“Universal access to education” is embodied in Education for All (EFA) and Millenium Development Goals (MDGs). It is a beautiful phrase but a fraught one.

Access to education is far from universal. What is enshrined as a right is a privilege bought at a price. Every “aspirational” parent knows this.

Preparation to pass an entrance test so a student can compete with thousands for limited slots in a state university (82,000 UPCAT examinees last year) requires investing in quality primary and secondary education for 13 years, assuming he or she starts as early as 3 years of age and this before the K to 12 program was in place.

But this alone does not paint a true picture of education as an economic choice in this country, as well as other “settings of fragility” where EFA and MDGs are endangered. When a student drops out of class to sell candles or harvest forage for livestock, he or she becomes one of the “missing.”

Talisay City has 744 school-age children that have not completed any grade level, reported Sun.Star Cebu’s Justin K. Vestil last June 19. Citing data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) – Central Visayas, the same report traced other students “missing” due to retention, transfer or dropping out: more than 4,000 children in Cebu, Lapu-Lapu and Toledo Cities.

What the system regards as a statistical loss is a human tragedy muted by clashing realities. It’s inevitable that of the millions swarming beyond the capacity of limited public school classrooms, considerably fewer will persevere through the year levels to try to qualify for college, let alone choose a course or a campus.

For those privileged to be on the track for a degree course, there is still a thicket of tuition and other fees to go through after hurdling reviews, entrance exams, and their attendant costs. To be in UP, P100,000 is needed annually for every student, at P3,000 per unit, Rappler reported in July 13, 2013.

But due to a state subsidy of nearly 50 percent, full-paying students or those classified under bracket A of the socialized tuition and financial assistance program (STFAP) pay only P1,500 per unit in UP Diliman, Los Baños and Manila, and P1,000 per unit in UP Cebu and other campuses.

Whether one is in bracket A, the so-called millionaires’ class for those who can afford to pay in full UP tuition and other fees, or bracket D, all UP students pay in full school fees upon enrolment. That’s just the start of their Calvary.

In April 2013, three weeks after UP Manila student Kristel Tejada drank silver cleaner because she was refused readmission over an unsettled tuition of P10,000, college students Daveson Beron and Don Benedict Pamintuan shot themselves.

Beron, a mechanical engineering senior at the Batangas State University, had failing grades that prevented him from graduating with his batch. Pamintuan, a physical therapy freshman at the De La Salle-Dasmariñas, failed in four subjects and learned he was to be transferred to the Batangas State University the following year.

If “universal access to education” spurs human aspiration, what can we do about the doors closing on missing youth?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 29, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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