Student First Movement: Who is our among tunay?

AHMAD NABILI-UNSPLASH

IN A PREVIOUS LIFE, as a member the Civil Aeronautics Board, we were summoned by the Senate to testify on assisting Philippine Air Lines, then the only domestic airline. In our testimony, we committed to consider the directions of that august body if they would just clarify for us on one issue. Whose interests are we supposed to serve? Who is our among tunay, our true master? Is it the airline, the government or the passengers? When they answered, passengers, our mandate was clear.

When it comes to education we argue that the interest of the students should be served first and foremost. That the student is our among tunay. One has merely to observe that Filipino parents will bear any sacrifices just to secure a good education for their children. They know that a good education will secure a bright future for the children. As it is for the parents, so it should be for the government.

We, in the Student First Movement argue that our government adopt as its national education policy that in all matters in education the interests of the students will be the first and foremost consideration.

Conceded then, if the interests of our students are our foremost concern, how do we go about it?

Sixty years ago, Milton Friedman, a renowned economist in his book Capitalism and Freedom popularized the case for school vouchers. Friedman’s insight was that schools should compete for students, just as other businesses must earn their customers.

Following that trend of thought, let us imagine that Jollibee instead of selling chicken is now selling education. For one, as in the chicken business, they would be listening to the wants and needs of their students (consumers) instead of deciding unilaterally. They would be instructing their staff to consider the interests of the students they are serving. After doing all of these, they would then offer students basic courses and electives.

Jollibee would do this, because in the food business, the scenario that plays in their minds is the loving parents asking their child, “Anak, saan mo gustong kumain, Jollibee, McDo or KFC? (Child, where do you wish to eat, Jollibee, McDo or KFC?). And their entire effort is for the child to say, “Jollibee.”

In selling education, Jollibee will be subject to the same competitive conditions. There will be other schools competing for these students. Moreover, even if the students enroll in their school, if the quality-of-service Jollibee promised is not delivered, the students always go to another school. This is the guarantee that the interests of the students will be first and foremost on the mind of Jollibee.

Now imagine the government in the food business and the scene would play like this.

Loving parent, “Anak, sorry hindi tayo puede sa Jollibee, ang binigay ng govierno na food coupon para sa libreng chicken ay puede lang sa Mang Inasal.” (Child, sorry we cannot eat at Jollibee because the food coupon for free chicken given by the government can be used only at Mang Inasal). Upon reaching Mang Inasal, they would see that the place is crowded and they would join the line. After a long wait, they are led to a table, to be served by those whose attitude is that since the food is free, they should not expect quality service (Libre na nga ang pagkain, gusto senyorito service pa. The food is already free, but they still want gentleman-level service.)

The school voucher is like the food coupon, entitling the holder at the expense of government to receive an education as befits a citizen of the republic. But right now, that voucher is mainly honored in the public schools. The government presently gives out a limited number of school vouchers which are honored in accredited private schools. The question that naturally arises is “Why only for a few and not for all?”

The dismal scenario that we cited does not occur with our food and so should not persist with our education.

For this reason, we and other like-minded citizens have decided to form the Student First Movement. The Student First Movement seeks the recognition by the government that when it comes to education the interest of students be their foremost concern, that their voices will be heard and that their choices be granted. And all these will be achieved through a School Voucher System.

Dr. Victor S. Limlingan is the chairman of the Cristina Research Foundation, Inc., a public policy advisory firm, and the Regina Capital Development Corp. He is presently a Regent of the Board of Regents of the Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Pasig. Among the books he has written are The Overseas Chinese in ASEAN: Business Strategies and Management Practices and The Visible Hand and the Developing Economy. As public policy adviser to the legislative branch, he advised on legislation such as Kalakalan 20, Overseas Workers Development Fund, the charter of the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the EPIRA Law.