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Pinoy Abroad

RP's best teachers are leaving in droves

December 18, 2007 6:59pm
For hundreds of Filipino teachers who have given up on their disproportionate salaries in the country, a future in the United States seems to be the best option. And then, there's also China.

Filipino teachers are highly esteemed abroad and are paid up to 10 times their salaries in the Philippines.

Because of the attractive salary rates and other incentives for their families, there has been an increasing number of Filipinos pursuing teaching jobs overseas. In the process, the Philippines is losing many of its better, if not the best, teachers in specialty subjects like Science, Mathematics and English.

Emerita Cervantes took a one-year leave from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and accepted a teaching job in a university in Fujian province, China.

"I'm proud of what I'm doing in China," she declared. "I can still recall that on my first day at the university, my students asked me where I come from. When I answered, 'Philippines,' they asked, 'Where is the Philippines?' Not one in my six classes (total of 270 students) knew anything about the Philippines. Now, it's a different story. Little by little the Filipino English teacher is gaining respect," she said.

"Even on the train, I often get requests (through some Chinese passengers who speak a little English) to teach English, on the spot. The train often becomes an 'English Corner.'

"I am proud to be a Filipino and to do my share in improving other countries' perception of the Philippines. I hope, though, that the Philippine government, through the Department of Labor and Employment, will be a little stricter in screening overseas job applicants, especially professionals, to make sure that only the qualified ones are sent for overseas work," Cervantes said.

In an attempt to somehow curb the trend of the country's best teachers leaving for overseas jobs, bills have been filed in Congress seeking to upgrade the salary rates of teachers. However, the proposed rates still pales in comparison with the salary offers overseas.

House Bill No. 800 or the “Act Upgrading the Minimum Salary Grade Level of Public School Teachers in the Elementary And Secondary Levels from Grade 10 to 15" is geared towards providing public school teachers a much-needed wage hike.

"Our teachers are not accorded due recognition and importance they deserve, their salaries are insultingly low and with the high cost of living today, it is no wonder that the best and brightest among them are now teaching abroad, or worse, have migrated to work as caregivers or domestic helpers," said Caloocan City Rep. Mary Mitzi L. Cajayon, author of HB 800 at the House of Representatives.

Cajayon airs the side of the much underpaid yet overworked professionals in the country who, aside from performing their jobs as teachers, would also endanger their lives when being called to serve during local and national elections.

"This could be done by giving our public school teachers --who are unappreciated, overworked, and underpaid -- proper incentives, such as increasing their minimum salary grade level from Grade 10 to 15," said Cajayon.

A similar bill is introduced at the Senate by Senator Edgardo Angara but with a bigger adjustment of salary rates from Grade 10 to 19.

A public school teacher under a Salary Grade 10 receives a gross pay of P9, 939 a month.

A Salary Grade 15 teacher gets P12, 546 a month and a Salary Grade 19 teacher is entitled to a monthly salary of P16, 792.

“There is a need to upgrade the minimum salary grade level of teachers from Salary Grade 10 to 19, which corresponds to almost P6,000 increase in their monthly basic salaries. With this increase in salaries, more qualified and competent educators will be attracted to teach in public schools," wrote Angara in his bill’s explanatory note.

The proposed salary adjustment does not seem adequate to entice emigrating teachers to just stay or come back home.

In the United States, for instance, a Filipino teacher in Maryland is offered a starting annual salary of $43,481 (roughly equivalent to P1.8 million), making it a much coveted slot for many teachers from the Philippines.

Greener pastures in the US

In October 2004, Ireneo Abadejos and Julieta Perez were among Prince George’s County School System's “lucky 30" Filipino teachers recruited to Maryland.

And what was meant to be an experiment by Maryland officials to fill the big teacher shortage proved to be a success, with 100 more Filipino teachers arriving this month before the opening of classes in September.

“We're going to continue to look for teachers in innovative places," said Prince George County’s recruitment officer, Robert Gaskin, who is still searching to fill up the 1,000 vacancies mid-August this year.

Three years ago, Gaskin selected 30 teachers from the Philippines to come to the US as temporary workers on H-1B visas. The visa allowed the employer to later on sponsor the Filipinos' residency in the country.

The 41-year-old Abadejos left his job as a science teacher at Ateneo de Manila University to teach physics at Suitland High School, a part of the Prince George County school system.

“We survived. Filipinos are very pliant. As pliant as bamboo," Abadejos said, recalling how a guidance counselor there initially told him that he will be ‘eaten alive’ in the American classroom.

Perez, 35 years old, teaches at Oxon Hill Elementary and had to overcome cultural challenges such as the American lingo.

Both have acclimatized well with the culture and have moved their families to Maryland. They have to remain with Prince George’s school system for three more years to secure their permanent US residency.

In 2005, a critical teacher shortage has forced Baltimore educators to look overseas for help. WBAL-TV 11 News education reporter Tim Tooten reported that almost 60 new teachers from the Philippines arrived in Baltimore in July 2005 to prepare for their first day on the job.

The teachers -- most with 10, 15 and 20 years of experience -- believe their new jobs will be worth the challenge and the sacrifice of being away from home, family and friends.
Maryland’s second largest school district has hired almost 200 teachers from the Philippines to fill up vacancies in the next 12 months.

Twenty-eight of the new recruits started in Prince George’s County schools this month while another 170 will be coming in for the 2008- 2009 academic year beginning August next year.

Maryland’s Gazette recently reported that the teachers can teach in the county for six years with temporary citizenship. After the term, they can either apply for US citizenship or return to the Philippines.

Last year, Prince George’s County hired 107 Filipino teachers and 80 in 2005.

Maryland universities and colleges graduate about 2,500 teachers annually. Prince George’s County, which hires more than 1,000 new teachers every year, must compete with 23 other state school districts for those new teachers, according to the Gazette.

Filipino teachers are said to be preferred in US schools because accreditation requirements are very similar to the American requirements.

‘‘We’re not training the teachers in the United States, so we need to start looking at places where there are more teachers," said school board chairman Owen Johnson, who helped interview teacher candidates. ‘‘They recognize our shortages. ... They have been very aggressive in getting us to come and recruit."

School officials of the school district personnel went to the Philippines earlier this year to screen more than 300 applicants and 198 were offered a contract to teach at prince George’s, the second largest school district in Maryland and the 17th largest in the United States.

Since 2002, Prince George’s has recruited more than 400 Filipino educators.

The average starting salary in Prince George’s for a teacher with an undergraduate degree is $43,841, leaving foreign-born teachers with much more to support family members.

Kansas hires 40 Pinoy teachers


In Kansas, Maria Santiago was among the 40 Filipino teachers who arrived in the US state to fill teaching vacancies in Math, Science and special education classes. During the summer break, she took her children from the Philippines to live with her in the US.

According to Superintendent Winston Brooks, they choose Filipino teachers over other nationalities because most regular teachers in the Philippines are also college professors. Many have applied for overseas jobs to earn better wages and provide well for their families in the Philippines.

In January, representatives of Topeka Unified School District 501 will be traveling to the Philippines to recruit teachers who can provide instruction in areas where US schools are finding it increasingly difficult to fill for the next school year.

Springfield, Missouri-based HealthQuest Enterprises will finance the recruitment trip.

Currently, 18 teachers from the Philippines are employed in 11 other district schools in Kansas. Seven of them work as middle or high school science teachers, four as math teachers, five as special education teachers and two as elementary teachers, one of whom is certified to teach English second language learners and the other with math concentration, the report said.

Of the 18 Filipino teachers, 13 had a master's degree or have completed one since being hired.

Alabama hires more Pinoy mentors

School officials in Alabama recruited 14 Filipino teachers this school year to teach Math, Science and special-education instructions there.

Baldwin County is the first school system in Alabama to lure in foreign teachers to the state. It sent two officials to the Philippines to recruit competent teachers.

The school system offered jobs for 16 teachers from the Philippines but only 14 of the applicants met the requirements.

Filipino teachers in Georgia


The acceptance of Filipino teachers in the US is also seen in Georgia where 41 Filipino teachers who took up residence there last August were given boxes of foodstuffs and supplies from the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System that hired them.

The Filipino teachers including Ammi Hernandez and Girlie Acasio helped fill the school’s teacher vacancies for the current school year.

The teachers were given boxes of materials with toiletries, paper products and nearly everything they would need to start their kitchens - from flour and sugar to canned goods, rice, oil, salt and pepper.

Savannah-Chatham County Public School System has at least 49 schools and satellite facilities in the district with over 34, 500 students in pre-kindergarten to Grade 12. It is one of the largest school systems in the state of Georgia.

It offers foreign teachers $1,800 signing bonus for a 190-day contract for fully certified Math, Science, Foreign Language and Technology Education or Special Education teacher relocating to Savannah.

Under its Alternative Education Program, foreign teachers are given $900 monthly salary plus incentives.

Smuggling of teachers to Texas

However, not all Filipino teachers leaving for the US and elsewhere are lucky. In El Paso, Texas, Filipino couple Noel Cedro Tolentino and Angelica Tolentino, and his mother, Florita Tolentino were put on trial early this year for about 40 counts of criminal offenses including conspiracy to smuggle aliens, visa fraud and money laundering in connection with the recruitment of teachers from the Philippines.

The Tolentinos' placement company, OMNI Consortium, provided teachers for Socorro, Ysleta, Canutillo and El Paso independent school districts with fraudulent visas. The Tolentinos have pleaded not guilty.

A teacher from Bacolod said more than 200 teachers from the Philippines were recruited for jobs in Texas between 2001 and 2003 but when they arrived, many did not have jobs waiting for them as promised.

Two other teachers from Bacolod City said they were promised jobs in Texas but were brought instead to McAllen, about 14 kilometers away by bus.

The US government case against the Tolentinos included a series of alleged junkets to the Philippines, all-expenses paid trips during which US school administrators were expected to offer Filipino applicants teaching jobs in Texas. Those involved in the alleged junkets said those were working trips to recruit Filipino teachers.

In some cases, the job orders turned out to have been canceled when school districts scaled down their request for teachers, but the Tolentinos did not cancel the H-1 visa applicants for the unwanted teachers.

Government action

The human capital theory stipulates that the more and better educated a people, the greater the chances of economic development.

However, the exodus of Filipino educators to other countries like the United States, has created a vacuum in the education sector. The best teachers in English, Science and Math are leaving in droves, and many of those remaining in the country are those often ill-trained, if not incompetent.

One of the thrusts of Education Secretary Jesli A. Lapus for this year includes the forming of a core staff of Science and Mathematics supervisors and master teachers, train education managers throughout the country, and hone the skills of non-teaching personnel.

"Our schools are only as good as our teachers," Lapus said, "and while we do have many good teachers throughout the country, we need to improve the skills of many others, especially those who are non-majors in English, Science and Math."

Many Filipino teachers have also left for China and Thailand, which may not be offering salaries as high as the US, but still way above the salary rates in the Philippines.

Scores of school teachers have also left to take on jobs as domestic helpers or caregivers in Hong Kong, United Kingdom, Canada, among other destinations.

Annie Enriquez-Geron, general secretary of the Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLink), said widespread corruption, deplorable working conditions and low pay in the education sector has pushed many Filipino teachers, particularly young women educators, to work overseas.

"The exodus has contributed to the shortage in teachers. Moreover, the teaching profession is no longer attractive to the youth," Enriquez- Geron lamented.

Without a competitive salary, the best teachers in the country will remain teaching somewhere else. - GMANews.TV, with reports from Mark Joseph Ubalde
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