Her name evokes lost chances. Kristel Tejada, a student of the Philippines' premiere state university, killed herself in March because of various problems, one of which is the lack of money to pay for her college studies.
She was 16.
To oversimplify what led her to kill herself is to exploit and sensationalize her death, and it is a mistake I do not want to commit. A lot of factors are at play, but there is a need to examine how the lack of access to education became one of the reasons for her action.
Tejada, who was taking Behavioral Sciences, stopped going to school after she failed to pay her tuition for the second semester. She appealed for late payment but administrators said she failed to meet the deadline for the application. Under the “no late payment” policy, students who could not pay their tuition are removed from the classlist.
After she died, the University of the Philippines-Manila lifted this policy.
In the Philippines, one of the worst barriers to quality education is poverty. Even if the society and the government ensure that girls would have the same access to education as much as boys would, socioeconomic problems hinder them from completing formal education.
Getting that college diploma is a significant deal for Filipino families – for parents, it's the ultimate reward for years and years of hardwork. Unlike in other countries where it is advisable to take a year off before embarking on tertiary education – where the young can go on trips, go on volunteer programs – it is expected of Filipinos to go straight to college after graduating from high school.
This is because a college diploma is seen as a ticket out of poverty.
If you have this kind of reality and societal mentality, how should policies on education be developed?
I would like to give emphasis on the policymaking process, which I think is as important as the policies themselves.
Structures of decision-making in schools should have a collaborative spirit. The student body, the parents are given roles in these structures, but there are questions over the extent of their involvement in the said processes.
When the government comes up with laws, orders and programs, we often ask why do they seem so out of touch with the realities of the people's state. There is a disparity between the solutions offered by those in power and the reforms that the public really needs.
This happens because those in power often shut us out of the process. One of the worst misconceptions about democracy is that its ultimate manifestation is allowing the people pick their leaders - when what it should do is empower people to work with them; not just vote them.
We should introduce this concept in the place which many other Kristels consider as their refuge – in schools. An honest-to-goodnes consultative, collaborative policymaking process should be initiated in our universities, where the young often begin to shape their hopes and mold their dreams.