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An educational ‘Camelot’ in Nueva Ecija

April 18, 2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Elevating farming to a science and profession at a time when many Filipinos were drawn toward white collar jobs and the push for the young was to finish law, medicine, engineering or education was the goal of the founders of a farm school in Nueva Ecija in the early 1900s.

But various problems met the Central Luzon Agricultural School (CLAS) when it was established on April 12, 1907.

Significant of these was the desertion of its first enrollees who experienced a storm and later the onslaught of malaria and dysentery.

Officials of the then Bureau of Agriculture recommended the closure of the school and suggested that the CLAS be designated as an experiment station.

But the Bureau of Education rescued the school when it took responsibility for its development.

The CLAS, in just a few years, implemented programs, projects and activities that became the toast of the country.

In later years, CLAS was converted into a college (Central Luzon Agricultural College) and then became the Central Luzon State University (CLSU).

CLSU celebrated its centenary on April 12. The celebrations relived its glorious past and laid the groundwork for its future as one of the top academic institutions in the country.

Student-farmer

It was T. W. Thompson, the American schools superintendent in Nueva Ecija, who thought of establishing a farm school in the province.

He brought the idea to then Nueva Ecija Gov. Isauro Gabaldon, who asked the provincial board to pass a resolution requesting Governor General James Smith to declare a portion of the public agricultural land in the province as site of the school.

Smith reserved 658 hectares for the school site in the barrio of Muñoz in San Juan de Guimba, Nueva Ecija. (Muñoz later became a town and the Science City of Muñoz. Its mother town, San Juan de Guimba, is now called Guimba).

In its infancy, the school accepted boys in the intermediate grades. Their selection was based more on their ability to work in the fields and their industry rather than academic proficiency. The initial test was to carry a cavan (50 kilograms) of palay (unhusked rice) up to a certain distance.

By 1913, the school had 180 students who came from the Ilocos provinces, Cagayan, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, Pampanga and from the Visayas and Mindanao.

Superintendent Kilmer Moe, head of the school from 1913 to 1922, instituted groundbreaking programs and projects that pushed the school into the public’s consciousness.

The students, who lived in the school’s dormitories, were trained in all kinds of work.

When not inside the classrooms, they engaged in machinery and carpentry work, in the cooperative store, student bank, post office, and mess hall, earning them six centavos an hour.

They ate at the mess hall that was manned by students with titles such as “Mess Sergeant,” “Mess Corporals,” “Mess Guards,” “Cook’s Police,” “Bugler,” and “Baker.” The students earned fees according to their titles.

They underwent training in nursing and first aid. They also became part-time teachers in the elementary school in the town proper.

Citizenship training was also a paramount interest. The campus, which was also a residential community, became a “little republic” governed by a president, vice president and members of the council. It had a judge, student police and even a sanitary inspector.

The school officials upheld the undertakings, decisions, punishments and rewards doled out by officials of the “little republic.”

But the cornerstone in the school’s programs was the independent “student-farmer” scheme. In it, the students were paired, given farm tools, a carabao, rice and a farm to cultivate. They had to live and work in the farm, with themselves as their masters.

Thus, they attended classes half of the day and worked in their field and yard the rest of the day. It was not uncommon, based on newspaper accounts at that time, to see students working in the field “unmindful of the time clicking by.”

They were given shares in their harvest, which was three to five times more than the national average yield. The income they got was placed in their savings account in the school’s bank.

Girls were admitted starting 1945.

Breakthrough

The farm school became a college in 1952 and became a boon to agricultural education as it was also mandated to train teachers in the country’s public schools for professional growth in agricultural education.

In 1970, CLAS became a university. More courses—like business administration, accountancy, chemistry and biology—were offered. It also strengthened its graduate programs.

CLSU scored breakthroughs and instituted innovative projects in cotton and sunflower culture and production, vermiculture (the cultivation of worms to break down waste), cage culture of tilapia, rice-fish culture, farm of the future project, sericulture and moriculture (mulberry cultivation), among other things. It also put in place an agri-business program that yields millions of pesos in income every year.

The Commission on Higher Education, in one of the issues of its newsletter, called CLSU as an “educational Camelot” which is a “model and an inspiration for all educational institutions in the country.”

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