The United States will need 200,000 elementary and high school teachers each year for the next ten years. But because there won’t be enough teachers at home to meet the demand, it has turned to other countries to meet the shortage.
Among Asian countries the Philippines is a logical source of the teachers the US needs. Not only are Filipinos familiar with the English language. Due to US captivity for nearly 50 years as that country’s colony, the Philippine school system basically apes the US school system. That’s good news for the tens of thousands of teachers languishing in the low-paying, usually dead-end career that teaching has become in this country, but bad news for Filipino students and the Philippines.
In education as in such other areas as medicine, the country of our sorrows has found itself in an appalling state of irony: It has become a major source of professional labor for other countries, while its communities suffer from severe shortages in doctors, nurses and teachers.
In some cases the term “teacher shortage” fails to describe the real situation. Some communities have pupil-teacher ratios of as high as 70 to one, or nearly twice the mandated and already high 45 to one ratio. But there are others, some of them only a few hours’ drive from Manila, where there are no teachers at all.
In Central Luzon, nearly 500 elementary schools and over a thousand high schools had severe teacher shortages when classes opened last June. In some instances, these schools had no qualified teachers to teach some of the subjects mandated by the Department of Education (DepEd).
The problem of teacher shortages is only one among the many basic education faces in a poor country besieged by misplaced priorities, bureaucratic incompetence, and corruption. There is also a critical shortage of classrooms. In some instances, the corruption that has put the Philippine government on the global map as the second most corrupt in Asia shows in the classrooms built supposedly to meet the shortage. Kickback-driven contracts have resulted in unpainted classrooms without ceilings and electrical wiring, even as such simple needs as desks and blackboards are either too few (in some classrooms three students share a seat), or even non-existent.
Teacher shortages are to some extent also the result of the corruption that has made DepEd famous among the executive departments. Teaching has now become one of the least preferred professions among those going into college. It’s not only because of the low salaries, which in some communities often come late, but also because in many instances, merit has given way to connections when it comes to promotions.
Over the decades teachers have also steadily lost the social status that despite low salaries they had enjoyed in, say, the 1950s. Among the reasons are the obvious incompetence of political appointees and many others in the ranks as a result of poor training.
The result of the low salaries and low status is that teacher-recruiting companies have had a field day recruiting teachers for deployment in the United States for years, resulting in a steady hemorrhage of teachers and other professionals. But recruiters are accelerating their efforts, going around the country to sell teachers and other professionals the idea of teaching in the United States.
One recruitment agency alone intends to place 500 teachers in the US each month over the next 12 months–or a total of 6,000 teachers. While recruiters say that even those without teaching degrees may apply, stringent requirements for teaching in the United States have resulted in the recruitment of the most qualified.
Not only will this aggravate existing shortages. Over time it will mean the loss to the Philippines of the most competent, given the enthusiasm with which the recruitment is being met by teachers and other professionals who plan to change careers for a chance to work in the United States.
Given the likelihood that only a relative few among the most qualified will stay behind, a further decline in the quality of Philippine education–and therefore in the quality of the manpower available for the country’s development needs as well as the country’s general level of intellectual proficiency–is a near certainty.
The primary driving force for working abroad is the desire for modest comfort, as well as to earn the money that will assure families a better future. All other considerations pale beside this goal and going abroad to achieve it, which by now is so widespread an option among practically all sectors of the population it has become an article of faith.
The problem is that that faith is hardly misplaced. Returned Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) are so obviously better off their neighbors envy them their new house or the jeepney with “Katas ng Saudi” (Distilled from Saudi Arabia) emblazoned on its rear, which they purchased with their earnings. The fact that nurses returning from service in US hospitals go around in new Hondas doesn’t help dissuade others, including doctors, from trying their luck abroad either.
DepEd’s appeals to patriotism won’t work, not because teachers are either unique or especially oblivious to the needs of their country and people, but because they’re no different from doctors and nurses, engineers, construction workers, and even truck drivers eager to fly to Iraq.
Neither does acquainting would-be teacher migrants with the realities of teaching in the US–the high costs of living, the long hours, the low (relative to other professions) salaries, school violence, etc.–mean much. What’s basic are the dollars–say $30,000 a year–they expect to earn, which any calculator will show are equivalent to the undreamt of amount of over P1.5 million.
Although mandatory service for teachers once they earn their degrees has been proposed, it will at best be a temporary measure. The country’s hemorrhage of teachers and other professionals will continue until this country can provide the kind of salaries, living standards and hopes for the future working elsewhere does. Unfortunately that day seems so far off it might as well be never.