When a young girl in the Philippines spoke out against the lack of respect at her local high school, she was met with a barrage of harsh criticism from students, parents, and even a teacher.
The mother of the girl told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “It’s a very disrespectful and degrading act for children to be speaking to a teacher about something that’s not their problem.”
She added that the school had become a “peddler” of “shameful” material.
But in a country where education has long been a social issue, what’s particularly shocking about the girl’s story is that it was not even her first such incident.
In 2011, a high school student from the city of Taguig City in the southern Philippines died in a car crash after he refused to take part in the Pledge of Allegiance, even though his mother had insisted he do so.
In a country that has long struggled with poverty, students are frequently left behind by their parents, who are not allowed to pay tuition or fees for public schools, and who are often the ones who suffer financially when they miss out on the money their families earn.
As a result, the number of students who have died or become severely injured due to their lack of funds is estimated to be at least three times higher than those of other nations, according to a study by the University of Toronto’s School of Population, Health and Development (SPHD) in the United Kingdom.
The school has since been shut down, and students have been asked to sign an online pledge not to speak in classrooms or public places at any school during the next school year.
“They [the school] are taking a big risk in giving us the chance to talk about what we’re experiencing,” said student and mother of one of the victims, who wished to remain anonymous.
“If we had just listened to what they told us, we would not have gone to the police and now the police are saying they are going to punish us for our speech.”
The mother said that her daughter had already spoken out about her condition at the time she died, and that the administration at the school did not offer her a way out.
“I told them I would not talk in class anymore, and they didn’t listen to me.
They just told me to shut up and sign this document,” she said.
She said that she has been told to sign the document because “it’s very important for them to know that I spoke out about this because I’m a student who’s not in school.”
When asked why she chose to go public with the story, she said she did not want to get into “a cycle of disrespect and anger” at school and had decided to go ahead because she wants “the truth” to come out.
“The only reason why I decided to do this is because I want my story to be heard,” she added.
The SPHD study found that students in schools with low attendance rates, such as Taguigs school, are often given a choice between two courses, which students in poor schools often choose.
“When students are forced to choose between the two, they have the option to choose either the course of action which they feel is more harmful or to choose to be quiet,” said Professor of Health and Population Studies Mariko Taglialatela, the lead author of the study.
In response to the deaths of the girls, the Taguags school board has issued an apology and issued a public statement acknowledging that the students who died were in “the wrong place at the wrong time” and the school is committed to improving its performance.
The board also announced that the district will soon introduce a “Pledge of Allegiances” to “ensure that no student in Taguag City is denied the right to speak.”
The school will also create a task force of teachers and administrators to improve attendance rates and improve student engagement.