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A funny thing happened at work a few weeks ago during budget deliberation. After my boss made an impassioned plea about the government actually doing something to help the education sector, specifically higher education, instead of merely declaring it a priority with no concomitant action, a senator offered to increase the budget of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). Not wanting to be outdone, another senator went further and proposed to provide free tuition fee for all students in state universities and colleges (SUCs).

And the CHED commissioner declined their offer.

The senator seemed taken aback and said: Wait, you’re actually refusing money? While a bagito senator turned to a member of his staff and asked: Did they actually say they don’t need extra money?

It seemed preposterous to say no to money considering the state of education in our country, but as the CHED commissioner later explained, providing free tuition fee will not benefit as many poor students as our lawmakers thought because studies have shown that when it comes to SUCs enrollment, the non-poor students greatly outnumber poor students. The CHED insisted that non-poor SUCs students, who were already enjoying subsidized education, should continue paying tuition fee while poor students should be the one enjoying free tuition fee together with a hefty subsidy (i.e. living and book allowance, transportation, food ration).

The CHED was concerned that by providing free tuition fee to all SUCs students, both poor and non-poor, there will be less budget appropriated for those who actually need it. The CHED also pointed out other possible effects of a free tuition fee policy, such as the collapse of private schools because of the mass migration of students into SUCs, and the lack of sustainability of such policy.

How many times have we encountered a similar situation where our initial instinct was to throw money at a problem in a misguided attempt at solving it? In my case, I’ve sadly resorted to bribery in more cases than I care to admit, just to get my son to stop throwing a fit when we’re in a public place. But I know that my actions will lead to serious repercussions because now he knows that screaming and thrashing on the floor will always lead to a shiny, new toy. If I continue doing this, I’ll soon have an entitled brat for a son, and who the hell wants that right?

I soon realized that my son was most prone to acting up when he was tired and sleepy, so to minimize these blow-ups we make sure that he naps and eats on time. When we go out, I stuff some of his toys in my bag and then bring them out as needed to keep him entertained and busy. He still whines on occasion just to command attention, but my husband and I have made a pact to ignore him when he does this in order to nip this behavior in the bud. It’s not 100% effective but we have had less “moments” in public so I’d like to believe that we’re on the right path.

It’s the same with retail therapy, binge-eating, drug addiction or whatever band-aid solution we employ just to get by. Instead of facing our problems head-on and focusing our energy towards solving them, we would rather look away and pretend they don’t exist. But while we’re retail therapy-ing our way to feeling good, whatever it is we choose to ignore remains right where we left it.

As for the CHED, instead of free tuition fee for all SUCs students, they would rather funnel the additional budget towards more scholarships, grants and upgraded facilities and infrastructure for students to enjoy, as well as more research and training opportunities for teachers. Because if you’re going to throw money at a problem, then you’d better be sure that your money will be able to provide the required solution.

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