Hi, my name is Steve and I have recently arrived here in Davao, from the United States. I’m a retired firefighter and farmer from the beautiful farm fields of Ohio. Six years ago, a beautiful Filipina changed my life. Ten months later we had a pretty little girl and life was wonderful. About three years later a sudden illness and a pacemaker/defibrillator changed my life again, and now I’m retired. So, we decided to come to the Philippines and raise our daughter in my wife’s culture. My lovely wife will also go back to college and obtain her advanced degree. She is a product of the Davao public schools and she’s very well educated. She has a Bachelors degree from The University of Mindanao that is fully recognized in the U.S.A. We both like the schools and the morality of the Filipino people.
So, we started looking for a preschool for my five year old daughter and found Ateneo de Davao elementary school. OK, just go register her and start school, right! Not so fast, first there is an entry test to take; she was tested for Level II preschool (her age group). I suddenly found myself worried about my little girl’s first test.
I was much more nervous about the test, than was my daughter. Next were questions for the parents to answer (why Ateneo? …What are your expectations of Ateneo? …Do you attend Church?… What Church?… and such…) Questions that I did not expect, but they do make sense coming from a Christian school. Then came the fees, (reasonably small fees when compared to the states, so I’m not complaining) lots of fees, at different steps of registration and on different days. I found myself falling into the trap, “in the states, we do it better”. Well that’s an easy trap to fall into. We may do it different in the states, but who’s to say its better?
Next came uniforms, backpacks and books; all provided by the school or thru school resources. (ie… books, pencils and learning materials from the school, uniforms from the mall, necktie from the school canteen ..Etc..). Suddenly we were ready for the final step, my baby’s.. err.. ah.. my BIG girls first day at school (she doesn’t like to be called baby anymore, catch-on Dad)! I was more apprehensive, than excited. “What am I thinking; I’m sending my precious little girl off to school in a foreign country and into the care of people I didn’t necessarily know or trust.” “What am I thinking?”
“This isn’t Ohio or the states or anything I understood”. “How could I entrust my baby with all these strangers?” As my wife put it, “relax Dad!”
Ateneo is a private Christian (Jesuit/Catholic) school with tight security and very high standards for Teachers and Staff. That translates to a safe campus, a great school environment and high expectations. My daughter was doing very well at her preschool back in Ohio. But, here we were, registering in the middle of the school year, which meant she was actually a little behind. The schools here start teaching kids to read in preschool, so my daughter was behind her class.
I must say that I am very impressed with her teacher, Mrs. Annie. She immediately evaluated my daughter’s skill level and suggested homework ideas and started tutoring her. With tutoring and a little help from me, on homework assignments, she’s catching up nicely and should progress to Level III next year. My daughter is very outgoing and adjusted very quickly. She had a few bouts of “I miss my old school and classmates!” a few tears and nostalgia for her home in Ohio, but all-in-all she’s adjusted just fine.
The Teachers and staff at Ateneo have been wonderful. All classes are taught in English, but my daughter is being exposed to the native language as kids still use their home language at play. The school will teach the Filipino language (Tagalog) in later grades. I want her to be multi- lingual. That’s something that I don’t believe we, as Americans, put enough emphasis on. We have borders with French speaking Canada and Spanish speaking Mexico and yet we do not push enough for languages in our schools. The Philippine people speak English and their native tongues as a minimum. They understand the need to talk the languages of the world. You don’t have to go far to hear French, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Hangul (Korean), Arabic, German and I’ve even heard Flemish spoken here.
My wife rides with our daughter on her school bus (another expense) and stays in a special area reserved for caretakers or nanny’s (called Yayas). This is a very common practice; sitting outside the school waiting for the children to complete their school day. My daughter attends half day classes now, but I think she will go full time next year. That should mean no more sitting and waiting outside her school.
Do I worry? Of course I worry. I worry about her safety, her hygiene, her diet, her friends and …well you get my drift…I worry, I’m her Dad. I also know that I’d worry the same worries anywhere in the world, including back home in the states. It’s our plight as fathers to worry about our children.
I have very limited knowledge of public schools here in Davao. My wife has told me about her life growing up in Bocana Elementary school, Davao High School and the University of Mindanao and I will try to relay those stories for you.
First of all, as I said before, my wife is a product of public schools here. She is well spoken, in English, and had no problem in college classes or working in hospitals in the states.
I personally believe the schools here do a great job educating. My wife tells me about having classes sitting under a tree outside the school, because there were not enough classrooms or chairs. She said she loved rainy days, as that meant no school. I have been to a few of the schools and have driven past others and I have to say the facilities are poor, at best. I also realize that I am seeing them from an American point-of-view and I don’t always “get-it” here. My wife tells me some of the schools are quite nice, but I just don’t see it. That old “in the states, we do it better” trap, again.
Public schools do have a required miscellaneous fee. It’s a small amount, but if you don’t have it, you don’t have it, and your kids don’t attend school. It’s a very different philosophy over here. In the states, your kids attend school or child services visits you to know why. It’s often a challenge here just to meet the miscellaneous fee, the book fees, PTA fees (required here), uniform costs… etc.
Most all schools require a uniform of some type. I was driving past a school near my home this week and saw several kids in uniform, but one or two were barefooted. When I pointed this out to my wife, she told me the kids could not afford shoes and went to school without them. I looked the kids over closely and could see that the uniforms, they wore, were old and faded, but clean; so, Mom and Dad were trying. Shoes were just more that they could afford. The kids were smiling and seemed happy with their friends, but it did bother me that my daughter had it so well and these kids did not. Since then, my wife and I have purchased extra slippers and keep our eyes open. If we see those kids again, we will offer shoes to them. We hope they will accept them.
Education is important and kids cannot learn on an empty stomach. I wonder how many of these kids go to school hungry. Meals before school are no problems for most of us, but I wonder if I can do more, so I give what I can to charities that feed kids.
Just as my parents did, I live to make my daughter’s life better. Paying for the best education I can afford is extremely important to me. Private schools here are much more affordable than in the states. My education dollars (Pesos) go much farther here. That’s part of the reason we came to Davao to live. My wife and daughter can both attend the best schools available.
Please understand that I have no insight into the Philippine education system, because I don’t! I am only an expat parent with a kid in school, like millions of parents here; I just want the best for my child. I invite your insight into the education of our children and would be interested in your view. Please feel free to comment.
I hope you enjoyed the read.