(NOTE: This article was published on the September 26, 2010 issue of the Philippine Star’s Starweek.)
MANILA, Philippines – In the Philippines, the notion that one needs to be dead to be declared a hero is so prevalent, it is threatening to blot out the true essence of heroism. Thankfully, there’s a sector of Philippine society which keeps heroism in the land of the living: educators. Filipino teachers today face increasingly challenging times, compelling them to make their communities havens of learning for their students.
Though frequently underestimated, teachers labor on and their unwavering commitment to educating our nation’s youth is nothing short of heroic.
The fi ve teacher-honorees of this year’s “Many Faces of the Teacher” search are shining examples of such heroism. Organized by Bato Balani
Foundation Inc. (BBFI) in partnership with Diwa Learning Systems Inc. (DLSI), the search is a salute to the many educators whose lives of service and compassion are transforming and propelling our nation forward. The search is part of BBFI’s program, A Tribute to Teachers, which seeks to uplift the teaching profession and inspire others to take up the vocation as well.
“A lot of of my colleagues have a hard time using the internet,” shares Zoilo Pinongcos Jr. of Leganes National High School in Iloilo. “But the web offers us a virtually unlimited source of information and it’s our duty to make use of it. Technology isn’t the enemy,
it’s a tool.” Pinongcos, who has been teaching Math, English and ICT education for 24
years, pioneered a series of programs to help teachers go digital. “They are training programs that encourage fellow educators to apply ICT in the different subjects they handle,” shares Pinongcos. “Years ago, I started out as an English teacher but after some training in ICT, I realized that ICT had the potential to improve my teaching.
That’s when I set out to share this knowledge with my fellow teachers.” A certifi ed Intel Teach National Trainer, Pinongcos conducts ICT-readiness training courses in collaboration with Intel for teachers from all over the country. The courses emphasize studentcentered instruction, critical thinking and collaboration.
“The program is designed for classroom teachers who have limited computer experience and helps them acquire basic technology literacy skills,” explains Pinongcos. “We adjust each session to the needs to the teachers, so they can get the hints and skills for teaching specifi c topics or subject.”
According to Pinongcos, there is no such thing as learning disability. “There’s only a teaching disability and teachers must work to fi nd a students’ unique learning style to be able to teach them well,” says Pinongcos. Despite numerous lucrative offers to teach elsewhere and accolades received,
Pinongcos says that his heart is set on serving his local community. Leganes National High School, whose student population numbers 1,678 students only has 53 teachers. “There is still so much to do here. I have so many dreams for my students. They are the reason I keep teaching.”
ICT also played a part in improving the performance of high school students from the Science and Technology Center (STEC) in Basak, Lapulapu City, Cebu. “Engage students, get their at- tention so they’ll be ready to l e a r n , ” s h a r e s D o n a l d Dungog, who has b e e n teaching in STEC for five years. “When it comes to holding students’ attention, teachers have so much competition these days. It’s a challenge for us to keep up with the times.”
Dungog, who teaches Math and ICT education, developed the E-driven Learning project which encourages students to use their mathematical skills to solve problems in their community.
“Lots of students complain that Math is diffi cult and useless,” shares Dungog.
“The E-driven Learning projects aims to dispel those attitudes towards Math. I want my students to see that Math isn’t just relevant, it’s fun!”
Making Math enjoyable for his high school students is a full time job for Dungog. From making entertaining storyboards, web hunts and games to coming out with math-based strategies for popular video game Defense of the Ancients (DotA), Dungog persistently finds ways to make Math interesting.
“I even play DotA with my students during my spare time and they ask me: ‘sir, how did you become such a skilled DotA player?’ And I answer, by studying Math of course!” Dungog exclaims.
Dungog also works with the C o a l i t i o n for Better E d u c a – tion (CBE), s p e a r – heading the ap- placation of the Understanding by Design ( U B D ) approach in STEC. Dungog also led STEC’s robotics team, which placed both in the Philippine Robotics Olympics and the World Robotic Olympics in Korea.
Beyond winning contests, Dungog says that seeing his students become professionals and valuable contributors to improvement of their communities is the real measure of his success as a teacher. “A student has unlimited potential,” says Dungog. “And educators have the privilege to bring out that potential.”
Heroism that Overcomes Ma. Cristina Medina believes in seeing potential in the direst of circumstances.
In 2003, Medina started to go blind due to a condition called Macula Dystrophy. A single mother teaching in Laguna Resettlement Community School in San Pedro, Laguna, Medina faced two options: to fi ght and continue teaching or give up. She chose to fight.
Despite her colleagues’ insistence that she stop teaching, feisty Medina continued pursuing her life’s passion: to teach and empower others. “When I was diagnosed with Macula Dystrophy, I battled despair and resentment. I did not want to go blind,” shares Medina.
“But then I asked myself: Bakit ako magpapatalo? (Why give up?).”
Today, Medina teaches Special Education (SPED) classes to visually- impaired students as well as students with other learning difficulties. She also teaches regular classes by employing a Braille seat plan in her classes and memorizing her students’ names and associating it with their distinct voices. “If anything,
I want my students to believe in themselves,” says Medina. “Disabilities are
only circumstantial, we cannot control circumstance. But the will to overcome them, that’s something we can do.” A member of the Government Union in the Integration of Differently Able Employee (GUIDE), the Philippine Blind Union (PBU) and the World
Blind Union, Medina constantly seeks innovative ways to teach in her grade school students and share her expertise with others. In 2007, she formed Resources for the Blind Inc. (RBI), a support group for guidance and counseling serving students and young
professionals with low vision or visual impairment.
Frequently asked to speak to other teachers on teaching blind and visually-impaired children, she won the Best New Program Implementer Award from the Christoffel Blindenmission International/Onenet/ DepEd/RBI in 2005. Recently, Medina also won the Inspiring Women of the Year Award from Go Negosyo and the Philippine
Commission on Women and the Unilever Empowered Woman of the Year.
Despite all of the recognition she has received, Medina remains humble. “I am only as good as the students I teach,” says Medina. “If they don’t learn anything then all my awards are useless.” Medina feels that her impairment has not hindered her mission in
life. “I will serve and teach because it is my calling,” says Medina. “My impairment gave me an opportunity to become a better teacher. If anything, it has made my vision clearer.”
Steadfast Heroism Efren Bino of Mataas Elementary School in the rural island-barangay of Mataas, Bacacay, Albay may strike you as reserved and soft-spoken but behind
his mild mannered visage is an intense passion for serving his community. In 1996,
Bino started teaching in a barangay chapel as Mataas Elementary School’s lone teacher,
handling multi-grade levels from grades 1 to 3. He also acted as the school’s property custodian, security guard and principal for twelve years.
Instead of taking boat rides everyday from his home in the mainland to teach in Bacacay,
Bino opted to stay in the school instead to save money. “The boat fare was getting too expensive for my salary,” shares Bino. “And staying in Bacacay was the only way I could keep teaching my students.”
Bino also spends his weekends in school to tutor his pupils. “I came from a big family. We were a brood of six and we weren’t well off,” explains Bino. “Teaching became my life’s ambition because I wanted others to see that poverty can be overcome, they can finish school.”
One of Bino’s greatest difficulties in improving the school was convincing his students’ parents and his community of the importance of enrolling their children. To convince them,
Bino went door to door, explaining the school’s case to members of the municipality.
In 2006, Bacacay and the rest of the Bicol region was ravaged by the Typhoon Reming, leaving the island without electricity and water for two years. “When the typhoon struck, my fi rst thought was: I hope the school is spared,” says Bino. “Afterward, I was determined to fi nd a way to help the barangay get back on its feet.” Bino searched for sponsors and NGOs who would help rehabilitate the barangay.
His efforts paid off. In 2008, an NGO donated a two-classroom school building in Mataas and extended various rehabilitation projects in the barangay.
Electricity was restored in early 2009. In 2009, Mataas Elementary School was provided two additional teachers as well as additional classrooms. Students consistently perform well in academic competitions and achievement tests and enrollment has gone up since.
“I always tell my students that if they drop out of school, they waste all the talent and intelligence God gave them,” says Bino. “Studying hard is akin to thanking God for His gift of intelligence.” Many of his students have gone to college because of the inspiring example he set for them”
Keeping Heroes Alive Ambeth R. Ocampo insists in keeping history relevant.
“It’s not a bunch of dates and places to memorize,” explains Ocampo. “It’s our heritage. It has an impact on the way we perceive the world and ourselves.” A historian, popular
Columnist and an educator, Ocampo has taught Philippine history in the University of
the Philippines-Diliman, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.
Intent on showing the human side of the country’s historical fi gures,
Ocampo makes it a point to share interesting historical anecdotes with his students while presenting the fl ip side of signifi cant events in history. “It’s demystifying history, bringing it back to the facts without robbing it of its importance,” explains Ocampo. “We have so many misconceptions about our nation’s history, it is the educator’s role to correct those misconceptions.”
As chair of the National Historical Institute, Ocampo encourages his students to see history beyond the dates and holidays. “History is about people, it’s about relationships,”
says Ocampo. “I want my students to appreciate history, to appreciate the men and women who have made this country what it is.”
Many of his students enjoy his lectures because he employs creative presentations and a non-traditional teaching style. “History should be taught as a living, breathing subject,” adds Ocampo.
Ocampo has received numerous awards. Among these are the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) for History in 1997, the Gawad Balagtas Lifetime Achievement Award (Essay) from the Writers Union of the Philippines and the Metrobank Outstanding
Teacher Award in 2006, the Gatpuno Villegas Award/Patnubay ng Sining from the City of Manila for Culture in 2007 and the Commander in the Order of the Knights of Rizal. He has also received the Offi cier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the Republic of France for his contributions to the arts and letters as writer, academic and cultural administrator, and for his support of cultural exchange between the Philippines and France.
According to Ocampo, even though he has received so much recognition, he believes that he still has a lifetime of teaching and learning to do. “The pursuit of knowledge
and excellence never ends,” says Ocampo. “And the teaching of it, well, that doesn’t end too.
If there is anything the lives of Pinongcos, Dungog, Medina, Bino and Ocampo have shown us, it is this: that heroism isn’t about wars won, monuments erected, countries led and skyscrapers built. For them and for thousands of Filipino educators, heroism is simply taking up the call to serve, to teach and to press on. Our teachers are truly heroes and they must not be left unsung.