A scholarship program to get more teachers in public schools

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By recalling moments with favorite teachers through its #DearTeacher campaign, Step Up — a scholarship grant for those interested to teach — makes the case for improving the quality of Philippine education by making it easier for anyone to pursue the profession. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When advertising creative Lec Flores’ team in the startup Long Story Short invited eight teachers to share their experiences in front of the camera, there was something Flores conveniently forgot to tell them. For one, the teachers thought they were only supposed to share stories about years spent teaching for a campaign calling for better quality education.

Come shooting day, they were in for a pleasant surprise.

Former students — including the likes of host Patty Laurel-Filart for T.V. production professor Sev Sarmenta or actress Bianca Gonzalez-Intal for philosophy professor Dr. Leovino Garcia — not only wrote letters (which the teachers read in front of the camera) but also called to thank their former professors, the latter’s surprised and delighted reactions captured on-screen.

“It was genuine. They were not acting,” says Flores. “They had a certain glow that [showed that] they were very fulfilled and happy about their stories. Sobrang kitang kita.”

“I didn’t expect to have that kind of engagement,” says history professor Clem Camposano of the University of Asia & the Pacific whose former student, the reporter Shawn Yao, surprised him by calling in the middle of the video shoot. “I haven’t seen Shawn [in] the longest time.”

The eight videos were part of #DearTeacher, a campaign to motivate more teachers into pursuing the profession and to improve the quality of education in the Philippines. It highlights the joys of teaching, through real life stories of teachers and students, and invites everyone to “step up” to teach, if they are up for it.

Part of the campaign’s strategy is to honor teachers by highlighting stories of “influencers” with favorite teachers, says Philippine Business for Education (PBED) executive director Lovelaine Basillote. Hopefully, viewers will be inspired enough to apply to teach for Step Up — a scholarship grant for undergraduates and professionals who want to teach.

A program launched in 2015 by PBED and funded by the Australian government, Step Up (or Scholarships for Teacher Education Programs to Upgrade Teacher Quality in the Philippines) aims to recruit 1,000 teaching aspirants and hopes to make teachers of them by 2019. They are mentored by seasoned practitioners from the program’s partner universities, such as Philippine Normal University, Ateneo de Naga University, West Visayas State University, Cebu Normal University, Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, Mariano Marcos State University, and University of Southeastern Philippines-Obrero and Tagum.

Aside from mentoring, the Step Up program also involves civic engagement by way of cultural trips so that teacher-scholars may be aware of the social contexts of the children they teach.

PBED.jpg Part of the Step Up's strategy is to honor teachers by highlighting stories of “influencers” with favorite teachers. Illustration by JL JAVIER

Kenneth Mangurit is one such scholar who was enticed to teach (by way of a Facebook ad) and pursued an application to the Step Up program. A theater arts graduate who does freelance work, he was looking for a stable job when the opportunity to apply for a scholarship came in.

’Yung what if ko at that time was, ‘what if I teach my passion?’ Teach theater in a public school?” he shares. “At the same time, I consider it as acting — kasi you’re on stage, you’re performing, you’re delivering, you’re storytelling to your students.”

For Glendi Pabelico, who had always wanted to teach children with special needs, it’s about being where people need her most. “I want to end the stigma and [help people become] accepting of others despite differences or disability,” she says. Pabelico is now in her final year of completing a Bachelor of Special Education degree with a major in teaching children with intellectual disability.

Programs like Step Up provide individuals like Magurit and Pabelico a second chance to explore what else they can do as a profession, facilitating that first step to becoming a teacher by ensuring prospective educators are well-prepared to teach.

The scholarship program covers ₱140,000 worth of benefits, by way of answering for full tuition and miscellaneous fees, a monthly allowance, as well as book, uniform, and dormitory allowance, among other things. Through an agreement between the Department of Education and PBED, the scholarship affords grantees fast-track employment into Philippine public schools.

Among the best things Mangurit has learned as a Step Up scholar is the psychology behind the way students act. “Hindi lahat ng estudyante magkakapareho,” he shares. “Hindi lahat ng estudyante, parepareho ng intelligences … hindi rin sila pare-pareho mabilis matuto.”

Hopefully, Mangurit will be able to apply what he learned in Step Up after he graduates in May. Among other things, studying again — this time to be a teacher — has helped him discover new interests and made him realize how he might have a calling in teaching.

During a cultural trip in Nueva Ecija, he recalls how he enjoyed teaching young students (aged five to eight years old) how to make puppets out of paper bags, among other things. "’Pag nakikita mo ‘yung mga bata smiling at you, [when] they’re responding to you in a good way, it’s fulfilling,” he says. “This is what I want to do for the next few years.”

With additional reporting by Janelle Paris

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For more information on Step Up and requirements for applications, check their website and Facebook page.