POSTSCRIPT / August 25, 2022 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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How I somehow survived Grade 1

My enrolment for Grade 1 in the old hometown was not exactly one of my favorite days in school. But public elementary education, which was what we could afford, did not seem to have interfered with my education.

Face-to-face classes return since the pandemic lockdown of 2020. Photo: DepEd/ PNA

We kids were plucked from our blissful innocence and sent after the Semana Santa to enroll and yield to the system. Nursery school and kindergarten were not yet invented then. Most children went straight to Grade 1 when they turned six or seven.

Since hilots or midwives seldom had blank birth certificates when delivering babies, some kids had no papers to show they were of school age – or that they were indeed born (and not simply deposited by the stork outside the church door to run for president 40 years later).

To check their age, paperless enrollees were just made to reach over with their left arm and touch the right ear. If they were able to touch it, they were deemed to be at least six years old and eligible for Grade 1. Who was the genius who thought of that?

After enrolment, our mothers left us to the tender mercies of the “teacher-in-charge”,  who led us to our room which was so crowded that late enrollees had to sit on the floor at the back until more desks were brought in.

Some kids came barefoot or wore bakya, erroneously referred to as “wooden shoes”. It was many years later that somebody introduced rubber sandals/slippers. If one wore shoes then, classmates stepped on them.

When we were not listening, which was often the case in the crowded (at least 50 per) room, the teacher would slap his long guava twig of a stick on the blackboard (actually green) to get instant attention.

The same stick, btw, was sometimes used to whack one’s butt, while standing in front of the class, if caught cheating or lying. I never heard of any parent complaining as most of our elders then probably believed in the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

There were always not enough books for everyone so we had to share them for reading. Lessons were mostly in English, not Tagalog, Capampangan, or any native language. We were probably being molded into little brown Americans.

(Our town, now Mabalacat City!, hosted some 75 percent of the area of Clark Air Base which at that time was the largest American military base outside the US and the biggest employer of Filipinos who numbered some 12,000.)

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Everyone’s favorite subject was recess. At the bell, we spilled out to the street in front of the school. One favorite item was the dirty ice cream of the sorbetero. One cone cost five centavos, but if the needle pointed to “FREE” after you spun the wheel of fortune, you did not pay.

Children from well-off families could afford halu-halo selling for 10 centavos with extra shaved ice when they had eaten half of it. But such feasting was beyond the means of many of us.

We were not required to wear uniforms, which would have been another financial burden. I don’t remember wearing short pants with a real belt. Don’t tell anyone, but my shorts clung on through a kordon that I pulled tight and tied in front.

I never wore a jacket because I didn’t have one. Neither did I have a raincoat, or a school bag. I walked to school, which was some 400 meters away, clasping my precious things. When it rained, I stopped at stores along the way or under a tree and made a dash for it when the drizzle let up.

I was very careful with pad paper. If a sheet was only slightly used, I sometimes wetted a finger with saliva to erase the old handwriting so I could use the paper again. The regulation fat black pencil had no eraser like Mongol No. 2 (a luxury).

I mostly didn’t wear shoes in my elementary grades. The only time I would be shod was at the program at the closing of the school year when I went up the stage with my mother Apu Liling pinning on me a ribbon or award for best in something (as in best in conduct? Hahaha!)

Of course, I had shoes – at home. My favorites were the “Ang Tibay” tan leather moccasins although I wore them probably only on four occasions outside school, as my fast-growing (because unshod) feet quickly outsized them. I also wanted “Elpo” rubber shoes that a few of the boys sometimes wore, but never told my parents and put spending pressure on them.

 Walk, not ride, to school

My experience of walking to school is one of the reasons why I proposed in this space last Aug. 14 that more community schools be built so students will be residing within walking distance of a public elementary school.

This will not only address the perennial classroom shortage but also reduce the problem of lack of affordable public transportation for students who now have to commute.

Every community (barangay, town or city of a defined maximum population) must have its own public elementary and high schools – where “outsiders” or non-residents will not be admitted ahead of local students.

The construction of these schools must get priority. The buildings should have large bathing facilities, toilets, and open areas to accommodate persons displaced by calamities. Where there are no empty lots for such schools, suitable private buildings should be rented.

The idea is for all public elementary and high schools to be within walking distance so no student will have to ride to class. In emergencies, parents/guardians can rush to the children.

Students will be organized with their neighbors’ children. No student will walk to school or go home alone, but always with the same group. That a student’s missing is immediately noted. Hopefully, this will also teach them to look after one another.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 25, 2022)

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