Grassroots & Governance

STUDENTS of Aurora Aquino Elementary School in Malate, Manila attends their first day in school. — PHILIPPINE STAR/EDD GUMBAN

Vietnam’s great leader Ho Chi Minh is quoted to have said that if the plan is for 10 years, we should plant trees. But if the plan is for 100 years, we should invest in our people. To this day, “Uncle Ho” inspires the Vietnamese who are becoming more and more prosperous with time. Already, they have replaced our country as the second biggest coffee producer in the world. In fact, we are importing coffee from them now to cover the shortfalls in our coffee processing plants.

More significantly, Vietnam has been scoring among the highest in Southeast Asia in student competence tests, while we are lagging way below. Of course, we already know that we have been importing rice from them. We must be doing something wrong; and they must be doing something right.

Our Vice-President, who also heads our Department of Education, has asked Congress for P150 billion in confidential intelligence funds. These are monies which do not need to be accounted for. Vice-President Sarah Z. Duterte says that education is closely linked to national security. Meanwhile, the Commission on Audit has disclosed that the Office of the Vice-President spent an average of P7 million a day during the Christmas season last year. The funds came from a contingent fund that is still to be accounted for.

Meanwhile, we have a classroom shortage of almost 170,000 rooms, and a teacher shortage of 80,000. And we are concerned with the ideology of our youth? Vietnam has a successful communist government; why are we worried about so called “leftists”?

This is a country with almost half of the population living below the poverty line, including about 40% experiencing involuntary hunger. There is still much injustice and corruption in our flawed democracy. We should be proud if the best and the brightest of our youth are advocating more equitable and pro-poor policies. The status quo is full of injustice. An Englishwoman once said that if you are 20 years old or less and you are not left-leaning, then you have no heart.

As a constitutional democracy, our national security apparatus should protect the will of the people. And if that will is left-leaning, so be it. Communism, after all, is no longer illegal in our country. In advanced democracies such as Great Britain, the leftists are represented in Parliament; and they have to be legally contended with by whoever is in power. In our own Congress, we should be glad there are so-called left-leaning members. They are the least likely to be guilty of graft and are generally independent of the powerful presidencies. Moreover, the pressure they exert against unjust legislation and social injustices has helped protect the powerless.

Our Constitution provides for education to have the biggest share in our National Government’s budget. Rightly so. But we need to seriously review the effective use of this money that is intended to enhance the potential of our people. Why are we doing so badly in comparison with our neighbors?

For instance, there is too much emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge, rather than skills. Reading and mathematics, in which we do so poorly, call for the sharpening of skills, rather than quantity of knowledge. In this day and age of internet access to information and data, what we should instead sharpen is skills in independent research, or know-how on finding knowledge. Independent research helps enhance critical thinking, which our graduates don’t seem to have enough of.

Of course, we should include orientations on social and civic responsibility. This is something that can be better developed during class discussions or simulations, rather than just lectures. This will perhaps help improve the critical thinking of our voters and lead to more responsible political leaders.

I have been a teacher in schools and at the workplace. I find that students and new hires need to be challenged to think. They have been so used to feeding back what the teachers have lectured on or what their boss tells them to do. It takes about a year or more to radically convert their mindsets; but it is possible. I have facilitated the conversion of corporate culture into a more participative and empowered one which turned a struggling, small ad agency into what is now part of the biggest ad agency in the country. My high school students in a provincial town became champions in many provincial academic competitions because I challenged them to think and take initiatives.

But it will take a radical change in teaching methods to convert teachers into making use of student-centered learning methodologies.

For a start, teacher education institutions such as normal schools should radically transform the way our teachers educate our youth. Instead of depositing information in the minds of the students as in “banking,” they must learn to facilitate and enhance the learning experience of their students.

We will have to reduce the number of subjects required in schools, and enrich the impact of facilitated skills-based learning as human development objectives. There should be less emphasis on “objective” tests for the sake of computing grades, and more attention to class participation in discussions.

Perhaps the conversion has to start with the Secretary of Education who seems more concerned about “national security.” Otherwise, it is frightening to consider what kind of president she can be, given her close proximity to the highest leadership post in the land. The Education Secretary’s big policy decision for instance, has been to ban visual aids on the walls of classrooms! Alas.


Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines.