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  • agericodevilla

The Catch

Updated: May 12

My grandmother was a widow. She had eight children.  It was the year the Second World War engulfed the country.  Together with her cousin and with a patriot who was later executed by the invaders, she established a school in our town.  (She took in a war orphan to boot.)

Now the school is in its 84th year.

2024 Batangas Eastern Academy hackathon participants

As president of this school, I have come to realise only recently that the enterprise she has established, by the very standards we know now, is veritably a social enterprise.  It is mission-driven, it is revenue-generating, it has social impact, it is community-oriented, its financial goals align with social goals, and it has had accountability and transparency.

The school boasts of having the fourth lowest college semestral tuition fee range in the entire region, what used to be the biggest region in the country (Region IV-A and Region IV-B).  Lowest tuition fee range not by accident but by design.

Short-term, what the school administration seeks is to provide students high-quality education and unique experience at an affordable price.  Long-term, the school administration seeks to generate knowledge, share knowledge, and assure that knowledge shared is utilized for the welfare of San Juan, Batangas.

That is how I have been told by my grandmother how the school ought to be managed.  That is how I have seen my mentor, my aunt who used to manage the school long before my time, has run the school.

Fairly recently, however, that last standard noted above has escaped the administration of this institution — that it should have accountability and transparency.  As a result, the school has almost shuttered together with “the 860 private schools that have permanently shut their doors in the country” during or right after the COVID-19 pandemic period.

“Accountability and transparency” has to take the center of the administration’s attention more now.  Not only in respect to my grandmother’s legacy, but also because now 70% of our students have either partial or full-scholarship from government.  The school administration now seriously involves public trust.  Now that it has in its care so much of public funds.

Fairly recently, even before the COVID-19 pandemic period, schools have had to face a sundry of issues.  Among these are Financial Sustainability, Competition with Public Schools, Adaptation to Remote Learning, Closure Impact, and Learning Poverty.

Private schools have had to face reduced enrollment during and after the COVID-19 pandemic period.  In addition for these schools, including ours, there has been no support from government for elementary education. Elementary education that these private schools take as their “gold currency.”

Private schools have had to compete with public schools in a losing game for good faculty line-up.  There is no way that private schools can hike tuition fees as to match the salaries of public school teachers. No way given the capacity of the sector of the public that schools like ours serve.

Given the cost of infrastructure and the cost of the expertise needed, there is little that most schools like ours can do to be able to upgrade their capacity to match current trends in Industrial Revolution 4.0.  That our own school is able to match such current trends is probably more of an exception than a rule among private schools like ours (Proudly, our school has just very recently successfully conducted its second hackathon with good results; the school is more than half-way in its effort to establish its own Education Management System using its own resources in partnership with another equally notable social enterprise).

As pointed our here earlier, elsewhere in the country there has been “860 private schools that have permanently shut their doors.” Fortunately for San Juan, Batangas and its vicinity, no school has so far shuttered.

Like everyone else, we clearly see learning poverty in our education system.  We see the low level of reading comprehension among many of our students at large.  We see the low level of skills in mathematics of our students at large.  We see the ignorance of so much of science among our students at large. (Reason why our school has conducted our “Halina Magbasa …” program for elementary and high school students every second or third Sunday of the month -- for an entire year now.)

Now comes the offer to get the school administration’s hands on millions of public funds that can be used for scholarships each semester.  Therefore, more revenues. Therefore, more faculty development program funds. Therefore, more chances of being able to move ahead with the school's plan to put-up its agro-forestry and fisheries department.

The catch, take “for the boys.” "Not much." "Tama lang."

Why not?, says a handful of members of the executive committee.  Why not?, says one member of the Board of Directors.  Why not?, says a handful of faculty members.  Why not, says a handful of friends.  Everyone does it and it is for the good of kids from poor families.

Easy for this administration to decide the trade-off involved.  No.

For anyone who knows how this works, no brainer.  (Let me explain some other time.)

84 years and the school is still struggling, says our Chief Technology Officer.

It looks like that is the fate of social enterprises.

Not really, but there is also a catch. (Let me explain some other time.)

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