Sonny Angara on education
MINI CRITIQUE - Isagani Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 18, 2013 - 12:00am

So far, I have written about the education agenda of senatoriables Samson Alcantara (Teachers Code), Bam Aquino (GoTrabaho), Greco Belgica (tuition voucher), JV Ejercito Estrada (subsidy for SUCs), Baldomero Falcone (securitization), Jamby Madrigal (feeding), Ramon Magsaysay (e-learning), Antonio Trillanes II (anti-bullying), and Eddie Villanueva (scholarships). Today, I write about the candidate who, among the senatoriables, has done the most for Philippine education — Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.

Educated at the London School of Economics and Harvard Law School, Angara knows not only what he studied but how he studied it. He personally experienced what it is to study in world-ranked schools. He knows first-hand what good education should be like.

Having been a student at Xavier School and UP Diliman and a professor at New Era University and Centro Escolar University, he also has first-hand experience of the good and bad points of education in our country.

One of the reasons for starting the K to 12 reform is to make our educational system comparable to those of other countries. Reformists with intimate knowledge of what it means to study in other countries are in a good position to explain the need for reform. Because of his background, Angara has such knowledge. Because of his communication skills (which, by the way, were once utilized by Philippine STAR, where he used to be a business reporter), he is able to explain the need for reform clearly and succinctly.

I worked with him when I was the designated speaker in the regional consultations held by the House Committee on Basic Education and Culture. Angara was always present, because he headed the other committee in charge of education, the House Committee on Higher and Technical Education. From our discussions as we travelled around the country, I saw for myself how well he understood the interplay between higher, technical, and basic education.

Angara authored or co-authored quite a number of bills, one of which is the Kindergarten Education Act (RA 10157), the first in a series of laws necessary to make K to 12 fully operational. He was also one of the main brains behind the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, the second in the series of K to 12 laws.

When I asked him what the first bill would be that he would sponsor should he be elected to the Senate, his answer was “a bill that seeks the funding of an expanded and generous study-now-pay-later program.”

He was passionate about his objective for “each poor family to have one college scholar under the program.”

What Angara wants to do is to add more money to the Study Now Pay Later program run by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) since 1999. Adding more money, however, would merely add to the number of students on the program, but would not necessarily ensure that every poor family will have a college graduate. In order to do that, Angara wants to put in place a system of identifying poor high school students that have a reasonable chance of passing a college entrance exam and finishing a college course.

That will also involve identifying the courses that such students would have the aptitude for. Fortunately, there is already a system meant to help high school students find out what they are good at. The K to 12 program is doing what is called a “map” of industries that need college graduates, schools in the region that can supply such college graduates, and high schools that are reasonably near such colleges. Industries that do not need college graduates and need only Grade 12 graduates need not be directly involved in the Study Now Pay Later program run by CHED.

In short, adding money is only the first of several steps to make the Study Now Pay Later program responsive to the needs not only of the country but of every poor family. Angara has shepherded several bills through Congress that are as complex as his new dream bill. There is no question in my mind that he can draft, sponsor, and push through a bill that will indeed give every poor family a chance to have a child finish college.

College education is expensive, even in public universities, and it should be expensive. A good college or university has to have good teachers and good facilities, both of which cost a lot of money. There is no point going to a college with bad teachers and bad facilities. Students in these bad colleges learn nothing, do not pass board examinations, and are not hired after they graduate.

Good students deserve good education. The best students deserve the best education. The Study Now Pay Later program is the only way numerous gifted but poor Filipino students have of going to good schools.

The government has to invest in its best young citizens. Whether the scholars will repay their loans or not is, to me, not very important. Money spent on scholars is never badly spent. The investment will always be returned, in ways much more significant than pesos and centavos.

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