These Young Filipino Leaders are Changing the Philippines–One Classroom at a Time

Text by Evan Tan
Photo by Teach for the Philippines

“Kung gusto mong makilala ang Pilipinas, magturo ka sa public school. (If you want to know the Philippines, teach at a public school.)”

For Mikee Garcia, a training specialist at a popular restaurant chain in the country, her experience in Teach for the Philippines, a non-profit organisation which enlists young Filipino leaders to teach in public schools for two years, was nothing short of an eye-opener.

While she graduated with a degree in Psychology at Ateneo de Manila University, a well-known private school in the country, Mikee understood how the public education system works, having studied in a public high school. Teaching was close to Mikee’s heart, and she found it natural to pursue it after college–a calling of sorts.

“I found Teach for the Philippines online through a colleague,” she shares. “I decided to take a leap of faith by filling out an application form–and found myself in front of 60 wonderful children a few months after.”

Her batch mate, Adam Rabuy Crayne, now an account executive for a public relations firm, likewise felt that the fellowship revealed a lot about his country of heritage.

“The two years have informed my perspective on the nation, the diaspora, and the state of global education in profound ways I didn’t think were possible.”

Adam’s mother and her siblings were products of the public education system, and he regards the programme as his way of “honouring their journey and hopefully giving the next generations that same kind of hope and faith in their future.”

Adam graduated in 2010 at the University of California San Diego, with a degree in International Studies and a minor in Ethnic Studies. “Throughout college I was highly invested in initiatives to allocate resources and develop support networks for Filipino American students like myself. Upon graduation I took a variety of jobs that all met at the intersection of education and Filipino American activism. When the opportunity to join the Teach for the Philippines pioneer cohort came my way, I took it as a chance to synthesise everything I’d accomplished prior and apply it in the Philippine context.”

The programme exposed them first-hand to the harsh realities of being a public school teacher — the many pains and frustrations that troubles thousands of educators, every day.

Adam muses: “In the public school, a brilliant teacher focuses on the complete student – who is raising them at home, if anyone? Are they eating properly? What are they doing when they’re not in my classroom? How are any of these circumstances affecting their ability to perform? These questions are all relevant — but they’re also overwhelming when you consider that you have to take them all into account at least fifty five times, one round for each student in your class. At the same time, none of my kids were asking for pity; they showed up to my class every day to learn.”

Mikee echoes the same concerns: “The most challenging thing for me was accepting the fact that I cannot change everything. My students’ ages range from 7-13. A number of them still can’t read –and they were already in Grade 3. They are also the children who would come to school hungry and/or sleepy from working the previous night. Their frustration would sometimes turn into aggression and I admit there were times that things were lacking of hope. It was a difficult adjustment to make but a few months in, I realised that I should focus on the things within my control. I made an effort to get to know each child personally and worked towards a harmonious classroom culture and a classroom conducive for learning.”

These issues that hound the system is what pushes Teach for the Philippines to deploy volunteer teachers like Mikee and Adam into more communities and thus assist the Department of Education in three areas of focus: functional literacy, a move to make kindergarten universal, and the implementation of K-to-12 programme.

After three years of operation, the fellowship programme has been successful in partnering with 23 schools across eight cities, deploying almost 100 Teacher Fellows in addition to 49 alumni – 12 per cent of which have continued their commitment to education equity by directly working for an additional third year with the Department of Education.

“I think everyone intrinsically wants to leave the world better than it was when they entered it,” Adam observes. “I don’t believe people can change circumstances for the better without having seen the circumstances for what they really are. My two years have afforded me immense insight into how policy at the top has affected the population at the bottom, and I have a lot of faith in my co-fellows who share my experience and are using it to supplement the reforms which they currently champion.”

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