Sunday, December 30, 2007


Teachers all. With Guest Speaker Rita Dela Cruz.


by Dylan Y. Gozum

This year marks the second year that the Writers Guild has opened the Writers Workshop Series to public school teachers who are under the supporting embrace of our very own SPi Foundation. The Toastmasters Club, in a fresh bid for a greater sense of purpose, also did a series of workshops with teachers, although in the field that they are known for: public speaking.

For the Guild's part, we focused mainly on starting the teachers on how to write because if there are two things that have started to die in the Philippine Educational System, it's reading and consequently its twin, writing. I have no hard data to back up this claim, but if the results of the annual profiency exams for students are of any indication, it is pretty obvious that something is sorely lacking. The results of the English proficency exams for teachers are also at an all-time low. I had a chat with former Writers Guild contributor, Mahros Abano, who has returned to teaching and she says that the education system is delayed by 20 years. In what terms she didn't specify, but one look at graduates of public schools then and those of today speaks a lot about this gap in the information school children today receive.

I do not blame the teachers. With almost non-existent public libraries, where will they get new information other than what's written in their textbooks? And oh, don't even get me started on the textbooks. It's a tragedy on a scale never before seen in this country. Also, at Php 9,000/month salary, we do not expect teachers to spend a centavo on internet research or at the very least subscribe to magazines.

In our last workshop, our participants were shocked to know that a Php 300-priced book is already "reasonable" considering that most books in the Philippines are usually Php 300 and above. The latest Harry Potter book which came a few months ago was priced at Php 1,400.00 - four times the daily mininum wage of a Metro Manila-based worker. Surely, at their current salaries, public school teachers won't be able to have access to anything new at all, unless they are sent to the annual summer training for teachers in Baguio. My late mother, who worked for Plan International, once described a meeting of English Grammar teachers as "pandemonium, bordering on insanity." It was a meeting of the old versus the new school of Grammar and it took a day to settle differences in the usual grammar practices. I can imagine a lot of egos got bruised that day.

So why writing? Because writing allows a person to use the power of language to express one's thoughts. Filipinos do not relish the idea of speaking formally in public. Unfortunately, neither are we writers or readers. If we can only sing more often (if and when singing becomes our usual mode of communication), maybe we'd get much farther than where we are today. The entry of the texting language doesn't help either. Some say it's not how it's written but how it is expressed. Maybe. Maybe we can do away with basic sentence construction as long as we make ourselves understood. In fact, an office secretary of ours who just left for Dubai emails me in - surprise - SMS language! It was both worrisome and amusing. SMS language has become second nature.

So again, why do we teach writing? Because to be a writer, one also has to be a reader. In fact, one has to be a voracious reader - to quote guest speaker Rita dela Cruz - if one wishes to make a career out of writing. You can say that we are trying to hit two birds with one stone. We may not be able to convert the teachers to a writing career in a workshop or two, at least we can start them on reading. I cross my fingers and hope that their school libraries have books for adults. The classics would be my first requirement. Harry Potter is a no no. Bob Ong, no. Paolo Coelho, only on one's spare time. But for serious readers, one must never miss out on the rich language that classics offer.

Again, why writing? Because knowledge breeds knowledge. It's important - nay, a requirement - for teachers who teach English and Filipino subjects to be writers, too, because what's the use of teaching grammar if one can't use it? Let us teach our teachers teach their students how to harness the power of the written word and use it to advance themselves. The future will be waiting for their well-written job application forms, essays in contests, speeches during family gatherings, or even something as mundane as a Friendster or Facebook testimonial. Use knowledge to fight ignorance which promotes proverty. Use the power of the written word to secure and protect human rights. Use the ability to write to seek redress or earn a promotion at work or to articulate needs, wants, and aspirations. Over and above, use writing as a form of self-expression because through this one can find amusement, fulfillment, or life direction. Writing can be a voice for those who cannot speak out loud.

20 years of backlog can be a daunting thought. I hope that we are doing our own contribution in slowly closing this gap. We owe it to our children.

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