Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Nursing is the Pinoy Middle Class's "Wowowee"

Some pundits are puzzled at the "ferociousness" (as an Inquirer editorial termed it) and raw emotion displayed (thru text messages) by the 2006 Nursing Licensure Exam (NLE) board passers who are being asked to retake the exam. As Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros puts it;

"Of course, the candidates ought to retake the exams. I argued this point the last time around. I agreed completely with the officials of University of Santo Tomas who had been heroically pushing for this course of action despite much adverse opinion, notably from the examinees themselves. Quite simply, the good outweighs the bad, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I can understand how those who passed the exams honestly would feel personally cheated at being made to take them all over again, if not indeed robbed of precious time and resources. But what choice is there? To not retake the exams is to bring the stigma of being a cheat, or the suspicion of it, on one’s head for the rest of one’s life. With the most devastating consequences for one’s future. No one will want to hire you anyway under those conditions, other than at exploitative rates." (Rest the rest of his column here.)

But as I had pointed out earlier also, if they do agree to retaking the exam what assurance do the nursing examinees have that there will be no cheating again? If they retake the NLE and allegations of cheating surface again, what then? Will they be asked to take the exam again? I think the swift punishment of the guilty parties (and I mean stiff jail sentences and not just resignations) should come first before MalacaƱang can even "float" the idea of a retake. I do not think CGFNS will change its view of our nursing licensure system by our government making a "show of force" and unilaterally ordering the graduates to retake the exam while the real culprits are still roaming around unpunished. Until they are caught, CGFNS will view the possibility of a leakage happening again as a continuing danger. It's like the global war on terror: until Osama bin Laden is neutralized, people will always continue to fear a recurrence of terrorist attacks.

And to those who are bewildered by the "irrational" aggressive behavior of our nursing graduates, I would like to offer this explanation: nursing is seen by many middle-class Filipinos as their only remaining ticket to a good life, much like how the poor masses viewed the popular noontime TV show Wowowee and its six-figure cash prizes. Nursing is to the middle-class what Wowowee is to the poor - a ticket to riches and a good life. The only difference is that Wowowee offers a false sense and/or temporary financial security for the lucky contestant while a nursing job abroad can permanently uplift the fortunes of a Filipino family. The other difference, of course, is that no one has died or has been hurt (maybe psychologically but not physically) in the nursing exam fiasco while many poor people had died in the mad stampede for Wowowee tickets.

The Filipino middle-class is known to value a college degree very highly and would even spend their last centavo just to send their children to the best schools. While the poor likewise desire a college education for their children, statistics show that most of them fail: only 10% of Grade 1 pupils in the Philippines graduate from college. Education is seen as a step up the social ladder and a nursing education moreover is seen as a sure-fire ticket to dollar riches. Now, because of the leakage controversy, the middle classes's few or last remaining "windows" for social mobility is being closed due to the shenanigans of a few individuals. And government, which runs on the taxes it mainly collects from the salaried middle-class, is planning to punish them for its own incompetence in allowing the leakage to happen.

As we have seen in the Wowowee tragedy, Filipinos in their desperation are willing to die (some 74 of them) over the chance, however misguided, to escape a life of grinding poverty. Sadly, not a single relative of the victims has sued ABS-CBN mainly because they were "bought off" and made to sign a waiver in exchange for cash. I wonder if the middle-class will likewise allow themselves to be bought? I wonder what the middle-class will be capable of doing if they feel that their government is standing in their way and interfering with their progress? "Hindi na nga nakakatulong, nakakasama pa" is a common middle-class sentiment nowadays.

If MalacaƱang will not handle this sticky problem adequately, I believe that the nursing exam leakage fiasco has the potential of serving as the "flashpoint" leading to the demise of this administration. It may very well bring about what the deaths of countless opposition activists and critical journalists have failed to accomplish.

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