Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ heart is not with our public school teachers based on her unsympathetic statements regarding the clamor for a pay hike as promised by President Duterte during the campaign. Instead of being spurred after soldiers and the police already got their promised increase, Briones instead makes all these ridiculous excuses for the delay.
Last October, she was quoted in the media as saying that if teachers were poorly paid, how come they were not leaving the Department of Education. During the same interview, she claimed that compared with their private school counterparts, public school teachers get 30-50 percent more. So where does she expect the poor teachers to transfer when she herself said that the situation in the private sector is worse? Does she, the education secretary, want our teachers to leave their classrooms and abandon their pupils to try their luck abroad? Does she not understand that clinging to a job does not necessarily mean one is satisfied with the compensation, that it is possible one just does not have other options?
As a leader of the teachers, she totally misses the point when she trotted out the case of private school teachers to try and prove that those in public schools are adequately compensated. The logical reference here are the police and the soldiers: they now enjoy the promised pay raise while teachers could only watch longingly. It is ironic that the official who should be pressing the President to fulfill his promise to teachers pours cold water on their cause instead.
Briones was quoted in the papers as saying that she does not oppose pay increase for teachers but “they should first be armed with financial literacy.” She said that increasing the salaries of teachers is not enough to rescue or keep them from falling into the debt trap; they should also learn to avoid overspending and living beyond their means and for this purpose, they have to undergo financial literacy seminars.
She insults the teachers by attributing all their debt problems to lack of financial literacy. It never occurs to her that lowly paid government employees cannot help but borrow money to meet needs such as the education of their children, hospitalization, shelter, etc. simply because their pay is barely enough for their survival.
Going by her logic that teachers need to learn to use money well before they be given an increase, what happens to the teachers who have been astute in financial matters all their lives?
My wife was able to set aside a little from her barely P1,000 monthly salary as teacher in a private school to buy building materials little by little enabling us to start the construction of our house after seven years; my sister-in-law, along with her tricycle-driver husband, has succeeded in sending all her four children to college one of whom is now a lawyer. Should they and all other money-smart public school teachers in the country be lumped together with their one-day millionaire colleagues?
Following Briones’ logic, fairness demands that the two groups of teachers be treated differently. Does she have a scheme to get this done in place? Or has she ever thought of it in the first place?
And where in the world and what provision of law ties an employee’s judicious use of his salary with his right to salary increase? What would happen if employers adopted this insane idea of Briones?
Briones also appears ill informed about public school teachers’ plight when she reminded them not to use their own money for classroom supplies because these are provided for under the schools’ maintenance and other operating expenses. She did not mention other expenses being incurred by teachers to enable them to fulfill their work, some of which are more burdensome than classroom supplies. Education officials encourage teachers to use new technology in teaching but since the school has limited number of these equipment, teachers buy their own. The DepEd has no money for school band expenses so the one in-charge must find ways and means. Neither does the DepEd provide the money for students and their coaches to participate in competitions so the coaches must be resourceful otherwise, they use money meant for their families. And yes, classrooms must not be bare but “conducive to learning” otherwise, school authorities will question the teacher.
If she is sincerely concerned about the plight of teachers, Briones may want to know the whole gamut of the teaching-related expenses teachers incur, if such can be avoided or not and how much these needs eat into the income of teachers. A study on how teachers are “subsidizing” some needs of the DepEd is long overdue especially that the current education secretary is apparently only aware of the teachers’ problems on the sourcing of their classroom supplies. It is possible that DepEd officials are honestly ignorant of this aspect and it is time such ignorance is addressed.