I follow Master Kris through the corridors of the elementary school. It's playing time. What a noise. A few thousand pupils, what do you expect! Kris suddenly makes a stand, leans against the wall, a thoughtful look in his eyes. Somewhat stately, as he stands there, black pants and tight beige shirt with subtle embroidery. No trace of chalk, no spot. How does he manage? Stay focused, I whisper to myself. "Do you want me to expose the problems in our primary education?" In a quick reflex I grab my smartphone and start filming. He makes a strong statement, the sound of playing children in the background.
"We have stress. A lot of stress. We teach six hours a day and then we start the administrative work. The workload is too high. Our wages too low. The classes are too large. 35 pupils per class, according to the government, but the reality is far different. I run a class of 49 pupils! We teach in shifts, from sheer necessity or we share a classroom space in two parts ... How can we provide quality education in this way, how can pupils learn well? Give us more teachers! Give us more classes! Do you know how difficult it is to master fifty pupils? The government should provide more support in the classroom and more special care teachers."
"And yet. I have colleagues who have been teaching twenty, thirty years in those difficult circumstances. We work hard and follow the rules and instructions of the government. But we do not get any support or respect in return ... Our education program to prepare us for the new schoolyear consists of 500 teachers listening to one speaker. Ready for the start?! Last month, two of my pupils got unwell from the heat. I have no choice but asking the parents to contribute for additional fans, even though many of them earn less than the minimum wage. That’s how we arrange things, day by day. Our take-home pay, can't take us home anymore. With our net wages we can hardly make both ends meet, because of the costs at school, because of the costs for our family. You know, we don't require luxury ... just a fair wage."
"As a union officer, it is my responsibility to inform my colleagues - all of them are union members - on our rights. I tell them over and over again: we should stand up for our demands and not remain a slave in the classroom."
The day after, I meet Kris again, on ' Black Friday ', this time in black T-shirt and beige pants, microphone in the hand, shouting slogans during a rally for pay rise.
Kris Navales teaches in grade four in General San Roxas Elementary School (Quizon City, Philippines). He is a union leader of Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). On the other side of the world: the same struggle for decent working conditions, for quality education. #worldteachersday
Caroline Vanpoucke (Edito in Basis-8)
Read more about the solidarity trip to the Philippines