Thursday , June 21, 2018

Libre: Free education

ON Dec. 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations and enshrined in Article 26 is the right to education. It states: “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

Free elementary and secondary education have long been implemented through public school system, and I am but one of the many beneficiaries having finished elementary in Cebu Normal Laboratory School and secondary in Abellana National School.

But the most important stepping stone towards a profession is through tertiary education, and only a few are able to enter state universities and colleges. Parents generally do everything they can to get their children college education. There were those who bought policies from the College Assurance Plan (CAP) to ascertain tertiary education of their children, but CAP failed them. Others sell properties, pawn their jewellery and do odd jobs.

It is laudable that President Rodrigo Duterte signed into law the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act (Republic Act 10931) that guarantees free tuition and other miscellaneous fees for students in 112 state universities and colleges (SUCs)across the country. But Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno cautioned that the government may not be able to fund P100 billion annually to cover the free tuition for SUCs.

Then there is the question, “How about those wanting tertiary education but cannot qualify in the state universities and colleges?”

Allow me to cite my case in New Zealand. Last year, I decided to work on my admission to the New Zealand Bar. I had two options: take the examinations in core subjects or enroll these subjects in the university. I opted for the latter.

I availed of the Student Loan Scheme put in place by the government, made available to all New Zealand citizens and permanent residents. It covers course fees, course related expenses, and can also provide a weekly living allowance for full-time students. The loan is interest-free and made payable once you obtain work, deducted from your salary just like the tax withheld by the employers.

The Inland Revenue Department collects from the employers and consistently monitors the students, their employment and deductions. Therefore, in New Zealand no one is denied the chance for tertiary education in keeping with the letter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For now, RA 10931 carries a misnomer. It does not actually provide universal access to quality tertiary education but only a limited access to those who qualify in state universities and colleges.