Tomorrow, Oct. 5, is World Teacher’s Day, a campaign started in 1994 and mounted each year since then to help people better understand the role teachers play in developing students and the society. Please allow me to devote my space today to all the teachers out there, past and present, as my way of giving thanks to them for all their contributions to the world.
I recall a Thai advertisement that has gone viral recently. It highlighted the life of a schoolteacher in a small town whose mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Not having anyone else to take care of his mother, but also not one to neglect his teaching duties, the teacher decides to bring his mother along to school every day and lets her sit in class. However, the situation does not sit well with some parents, who complain to the headmaster about it.
Eventually, the parents realize that by what he was doing and his actions, the teacher was creating a strong positive impression or positive influence on his young students. That indirectly, and unintentionally, he was actually inculcating in them positive values: love of parent; care for the elderly; a strong sense of duty and obligation to family; a strong sense of duty and obligation to one’s professional calling; perseverance; and the fortitude to overcome difficulties and obstacles in life.
These, I believe, are the more important lessons in life, way beyond reading and writing or even mathematics and science. It is in this line that I am also batting for a stronger and more effective approach to values education and values formation in our schools, more so in the 5-12 years age group. Nowadays, we can no longer rely solely on parents and the home to promote positive values.
Going beyond what can be taught, a teacher’s actions and behavior also significantly impact and influence the children they teach, particularly the younger ones. It is in this sense that we consider them “second parents” or “parents in school,” to whom we entrust the education and nurturing of our children to become responsible and upright citizens and good human beings. After schooling, they should end up better people.
However, this is not to say that we should abdicate our roles as parents, and leave all the “parenting” to schools while we devote ourselves entirely to the role of “provider.” Easier said than done, I know, especially during hard times. But, if in providing for our children we also neglect to make them better people than we are, then we are failures as parents.
In the same manner, if we fail to provide educators and schools the priority and support they need, and the environment they require to provide a proper education to our children, then we are also failing as parents. Worse, if we cannot compel our public officials to prioritize children’s education and health, then we are also failing as a people.
Future generations will be facing far harsher conditions, politically, economically, and socially. Climate change, environmental degradation, overpopulation, poverty and hunger, and fierce competition for scarce resources like land and water and food are only a few of the adverse conditions that they are encountering now and will continue to encounter in the future. Honestly, are they prepared to face such difficulties and overcome them?
The objective, in my opinion, is clear: make our children better people than who or what we are now, in every way possible. But, if they end up becoming worse than who and what we are now, or weaker, then what will be the future of humanity? Policies and actions today impact and create the World of Tomorrow. There are no two ways about that.
I understand that parents, and homes, can only do so much in molding the young of today. Homes and parents can provide basics, but we need better schools and better teachers to help children level up. And improving the education system cannot be left to the government alone. The private sector needs to do its part as well, and so far, it has been.
But I also feel we are still a long way from achieving the ideal. Mergers of school system, like the one being undertaken now by the Yuchengcos and the Zobel de Ayalas in bringing together their school system to provide for a more integrated approach, is a welcome development. But the public-school system should not be left behind. It should get more support from the government in terms of infrastructure and curriculum development, among others.
However, the bottom line is that even the best-equipped and heavily funded schools will fail unless they have good teachers — the type that effectively mold our young intellectually, morally, and socially. In this line, I believe the most important factor in this scenario is teacher development. We need more teachers, better teachers. We need to devote more time and resources to producing quality teachers that can produce quality students.
Society, to me, is a community of people and their values. And the maturity of that society can be best gauged by how much it values its artists. But the wisdom of that society can be measured by how much it values its educators. Economics is about means and ends, while politics is nothing but an afterthought.
Marvin Tort is a former managing editor of BusinessWorld, and a former chairman of the Philippines Press Council