Earth Hour

Sunday, May 31, 2009

School's Back!

Tomorrow, some 18 million Filipino kids will troop to their schools as classes start for school year 2009-2010. I am just not sure how many of these kids will find a classroom to stay in, a chair to sit on and a desk to write on. I also wonder if all 18 million kids will have a book for each of their subjects and if these books even contain accurate and up to date information.

Of the 18 million boys and girls, 13.1 million are elementary students and 5.6 million are high school students. If you notice, there is a large disparity between the number of kids in elementary and high school. A 2008 study showed that of every 100 children who enter Grade 1, only 65 reach Grade 6, only 43 finish high school and only 2 enter college. (Manila Times)

In the meantime, the perennial problem of lack of classrooms continue to haunt the country. In spite government efforts, the current classroom to student ratio is 1:50. Daunting if you ask me because when I was in school, there were only 35 of us in a classroom. Even then, our teachers were complaining that there were too many of us in one class. I expect to see another photo of kids having classes under a tree on the front pages of newspapers the day after tomorrow.

Don't expect this problem to go away in the near future. The country has one of the highest birth rate in the region at 2.3 percent or some 1 million or more babies born in a year. Give or take seven years and these babies will also demand for classrooms.

The lack of teachers is still another problem that's been with the system for a long time. Some teachers are tasked to teach several grade levels at a time. With the low pay they receive, some leave the country to work as house helpers in other countries. Aside from the small number, the quality of some mentors are also questionable.

The children who will go back to school tomorrow have other problems to face. One is the high price of school supplies. Notebooks, school pads, pencils and ballpens have become more expensive in recent years. I looked around for school bags last Friday and I found out that the average price of each is 400 pesos. Parents with more than two children going back to school tomorrow will need at least a thousand pesos for school bags alone.

Then there's also the need to buy shoes and school uniforms. Even if the education department kept repeating that school uniforms are not compulsory. I think it would be more expensive in the long run to buy clothes for kids to wear to school. What parents would want their child to go to school in worn out or tattered clothes?

The most recent concern of course is the spread of the A H1N1 influenza virus. The weather bureau expects a rainy first week of classes. It would be damp and cold, a great environment for viruses to flourish. Putting 50 kids in one classroom does not help of course. There's also the lack of lavatories and toilets in most schools. This may not be a problem in private schools or even government schools in the city, but those in the far flung areas of the country may be in need of these facilities.

Government promises to eliminate most, if not all the usual school opening kinks in the future. Unless it gives education the attention and action it deserves, these problems will remain for future generation of school children.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Books for every Filipino

Our President has finally acted on the controversial import duty imposed on books by the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs. Yesterday, she ordered the department to to scrap the taxes imposed on imported books and reading materials. (I have a post on this here)

According to her spokesperson, "The President wants books to be within reach of the common man. She believes reading as an important value for intellectual formation, which is the foundation of a healthy public opinion necessary for a vibrant democracy.” (The Philippine Star)

Thank you Mrs. President for your concern for the Filipino people. Unlike your subordinates in the finance department who have limited or narrow appreciation of the importance of books in learning, you have shown your desire to make books within our reach. Still, many of us think twice before even buying a copy of a book we desire.

Even without the added tax the DOF wanted to impose, books are presently beyond reach of the common man. Most paperback books cost more than 300 pesos, hardbounds cost more. Even local publications are priced not lower than 200 pesos, a princely sum for many Filipinos who earn just 275 pesos a day. That is why in many cases, books are not even in the list of essential things to buy for many Filipinos. I for one has to save just to buy a book and pray that when I have enough money to get it, the book will still be there. Indeed, there is still a lot to do if you really want books to be "within reach of the common man."

One of the things you could do is to provide for public libraries. Local governments may set up libraries in their areas that could provide reading materials for their constituents. They do not necessarily need to buy new books since there are hundreds of ways to get stocks for their libraries.

I remember when I was small, this was at the height of the Martial Law years, our community has a small public library where one can come and freely read books. I don't know when this library was erected but before I got to college, it was gone. The old structure was torn down and in its place now stand a carwash,

While some communities continue to have public libraries, these are through efforts of private citizens who probably share the President's belief in the importance of reading in intellectual formation. These libraries receive little, if any at all, support from local governments.

Many of my fellow book lovers have come up of ingenious ways to spread the joy of reading, There's bookmooching where one gets credit for giving someone else his book. He could use this credit to ask for a book from other people who will in turn get credit for giving him the book.

Why can't government apply something like this and give individual book donors credit that they could use to buy new books for themselves? This will encourage many people to give away books they have read to those who cannot afford them and they could buy new books which they could donate again in the future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Clowns in Forums?

I frequent several forums online to get connected with people who share my interests. Some of these are very good sources of information, especially those on technical and computer related topics since many experts of various fields also frequent these sites.

One of the advantages of these sites is I can get help on some technical problems almost swiftly and reliably because I am certain that those who answer my queries have encountered my problems or have information about them.

Lately though, I noticed that some members of my online groups have become dependent on this forum and became lazy to even do simple searches for their problems. In one computer related forum that I am in, answers to some of the problems raised were easily found in the user's manual or even in the Help option. I often wonder if these members are just too lazy to look for the solutions and rely on others to find it for them.

Another thing I noticed is the Off Topic option for many of these forums. Although it's okay to ask something like, where to get something for other things beside the topic on hand, other members actually ask mundane things.

In one forum, I was surprised to see a member asked where he could treat his son for his 1st birthday. Another member asked where he could find clowns. I think information for these things are found in classified ads or a simple Google search can give the member answers. To ask a forum that centers on computer related things about these mundane things is just too much for me. Of course I could choose not to read or respond to these queries but merely seeing them on that space is irritating. It muddles the forum and wastes bandwidth.

There are other "sins" committed on these online groups but one particular question that hits a raw nerve in me is "Please help me decide whether to buy this product." One time, I couldn't help it anymore, I responded by telling the person that other people cannot decide for him because only him knows what he needs. There were those who agreed with me and of course, some called me an a***ole.

I think some fora are made as  venues for sharing ideas and information of people who have a common interest. I would like my groups to remain that way. While some off-topics are permissible, I hope other people do not use it not because the information they need is not available elsewhere, but because they are just too lazy to look for it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Books are Evil

Books are evil. They are very addictive. Once a person picks up and opens one, he is put under its spell. The moment he starts reading, he is powerless to stop and put it down until he finishes reading it.

Reading alters the mind, one will start imagining things, go to different places and meet new people. At times, one may even begin to ponder about life itself and develop new ideas and become aware of the world around us. Indeed, books are bad for everyone.

That is why our clever government, the Department of Finance in particular, decided to keep books away from you and me. Starting March this year, government imposed duties on imported books. No more free importation of books. Custom inspectors will now have the sole authority to determine whether books could contribute the education, cultural development and well-being of Filipinos. These type of books are charged 1% duties. If Mr. Inspector thinks a book does not belong to this category, the importer must pay higher duties to get his items. By the way, it takes time to do this sorting thing so Mr. Importer must also pay for the handling and storage fees of the books.

Thank you people in the finance department for this directive. You have single handedly saved Filipinos from the bad effects of books by making books potentially unavailable and unaffordable for them. Now, only the elite who could afford it and have the opportunity to read books. Books are bad for people like you because they could make a new generation of ordinary Filipinos who could question policies like this one.

Let those Filipinos who cannot buy imported books make do with those produced locally but contain factual errors and twisted point of views.

With people like you in government, do we even have to wonder why we continue to lag behind our neighbors in terms of education.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I love bananas.  Here in the Philippines, we have several types of bananas.  Small and fat, long and thin, yellow, red, white and even green bananas.  I love bananas because they are easy to eat, just peel off the hygienic natural packaging and you’re ready to chomp on them.  They also contain lots of vitamins and minerals.  My meal is almost incomplete without it.
I bought a variety we call saba.  This one is often used for the banana que I kept on having as merienda.  But this type of banana can be cooked in different ways.  My father likes it fried in oil and usually eat this during breakfast. I cooked some in two of the most common methods:  boiled and sweetened.  
I boiled the bananas with the peel on and had them for my mid-morning snack.  I was happy as can be, of course.  I also ate some while surfing the Internet.  Though it’s gone cold for the length of time that lapsed since I cooked it, it still tasted good.  In fact it tasted refreshing on a warm morning we had today.
In some parts of the Philippines, particularly in the Visayas, saba is cooked before they are fully ripened.  Then they eat with bagoong, the smelly fish sauce that is uniquely Filipino.  I haven’t tried this one yet but maybe someday, when i get the courage to do it. 
The sweetened bananas were reserved for dessert after lunch.  I cooked the bananas by boiling them, peeled of course,  in a mixture of brown sugar and water.  For added flavor, I placed a couple of tablespoons of the preserved jackfruit I was keeping in the fridge.  It was so delicious I couldn’t stop myself from eating a few pieces even though they were still hot.  I usually put some shaved ice to make it cold.  Other people even put some milk to make it creamier.
I ate this while watching the TV news after lunch.  Then I had some more of both the boiled and sweetened ones for merienda.  Unfortunately, I ran out of ice to shave that I contented myself by eating eat just cold and not chilled.
I had more bananas after dinner and in fact, I plan to eat the rest of the boiled bananas during breakfast tomorrow.
You may say that I really love bananas but I do!  I go bananas over bananas!