Education: the most strategic change President Duterte can make

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is in an unenviable position. Sure, the Office has the perks, pomp and pageantry of a cushy life. But he inherited a country so deep in the mire that it will take so much time and effort for it to claw its way back up. Quick fix solutions won’t matter, for while they may satisfy our urge for action in this time – having been deprived of it exponentially in the past administrations – this administration has to kick start a program that will bring lasting solutions for the generations to come.

That strategic move is in education.

Education will move the country along the right path for the citizens: from equipping the people for the changes to come in the country and the world; to having the capacity to discern in the ever growing confusion brought about by technology and media; to the formation of character and values to deal with internal strife such rebellion and secession, external threats such as the protection of our territories, to dealing with the growing drug menace.

To have direction in its education programs the government can – and should – take its cue from the private sector and international best practice. The knowledge and systems are out there, and in many cases there is no need to reinvent the wheel. And while one may ask why the private sector cannot just step in with its soft and hard resources and infrastructure for education, we must remember that in its joint effort the private sector can only do so much and government has the largest education and infrastructure network in existence. On the government has the reach and capacity for mass education, especially in the most important and formative years.

Take the SM Foundation’s scholarship program. For two decades it has built up its roster of college scholars for poor students. This program has a very simple and focused mantra: “Creating better opportunities for the future.”

Some 100 scholars from the Don Bosco Technical Institute prepare to lead the  listen in on SM Foundation's Linda Atayde prior to the launch of the program for 1,000 new scholars of the program.

Some 100 scholars from the Don Bosco Technical Institute prepare to lead the listen in on SM Foundation’s Linda Atayde prior to the launch of the program for 1,000 new scholars of the program.

Indeed, opportunities come with education, and SM Foundation has been able to hone this philosophy:

Our experience with the scholarship program for over two decades strongly affirm our belief that when one family member graduates from college, the scholar can help another sibling go to school and serve as the key to uplifting their family out of poverty. We search for underprivileged but deserving youth to be awarded the SM College Scholarships. Each scholar enjoys full tuition subsidy, a monthly stipend and job opportunities during Christmas and summer breaks. Upon graduation, all college scholars are offered option of full time jobs in SM but are under no obligation to join us. Our technical-vocational scholars also find gainful employment here and abroad.

Over the weekend, August 21, the foundation launched a new program for 1,000 new scholarships for technical and vocational courses designed to make up for the adjustments made for the government’s K-12 program where two years were actually chopped off the college program and integrated with the 12 year elementary and high school curricula (Kinder and grades 1 to 12).

SM has been active with its programs with technical-vocational schools like Punlaan School and the Don Bosco Makati Technical Institute. With the expansion of this scholarship program the SM foundation’s scope will now be nationwide, expanding the partnership with Don Bosco’s schools throughout the country as well as new partners such as Anihan Technical Institute in Calamba, Datacom Institute of Computer Technology in Makati, Dualtech Training Center in Laguna, General Santos City national Secondary School of Arts and Trades, Meralco Foundation Inc. technical Institute in Pasig, and Monark Foundation Institute in Laguna and Cagayan de Oro.

The partners likewise include the Center for Industrial Technology and Enterprise, School of Knowledge for Industrial Labor Leadership and Service, and the Banilad Center for Professional Development, all in Cebu.

Speaking of adjustments for the K-12 program, while it has its advantages in bringing our youth to global competitiveness it seems that the early curricula is still suffering from the transition. Emphasis for the early elementary grades seems to have an unusually high emphasis on rote academic performance rather than the foundational elements in character development and building up the love for learning. Emphasis in basics like reading, writing and arithmetic which are also foundational for future learning have given way to additional distractions of deeper abstract concepts of patriotism and social norms that leave the child confused. A basic question has been asked: what’s the use of teaching young children about national ideals if they can’t read or write?

Some private schools have been able to work around this problem, but it requires deeper commitment and understanding of what is truly needed. Unfortunately, it seems government has neither the time nor inclination to work this out in the institutional level, thus we find a discrepancy between the public school system itself where some are more progressive and better performing than others.

Teacher training is a must in this case, and again the private sector holds the key that government must look into.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the buzzword was “convergence” and the telecommunications industry was all gung ho with its mergers, acquisitions and projects to achieve this synergy information technology. But at the same time Ambassador Roberto R. Romulo was talking about the emergence of the digital divide, where basically the haves would be zooming up with the technological advancements while the have-nots will be left behind to sink deeper into the lack of opportunities and advantages brought about by the digital age.

Thus Romulo spearheaded the Foundation for Information Technology Education (FIT-ED). Run by a team of able young leaders like Luli Arroyo, FIT-ED provided teacher training all over the country, to ensure that teachers were aware and equipped with the tools of the digital world.

Another foundation into relevant education was the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, founded by Eugenia D. Apostol after she retired from being Chairman and CEO of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Their program centered on media literacy and education – teaching students how to receive and discern what media dishes out, to have that analytical prowess and passion for intellectual discourse.

Most recently public relations practitioner Junep Ocampo, known for his civic activism with Oplan Hatid, assisting the victims of that devastating typhoon Yolanda from Leyte and the rest of Visayas arriving in manila get transported to friends and relatives, again launched an effort for students to immerse themselves in the concept of servant leadership:

Almost two months ago, I had a rare chance of being jailed for about 32 hours for crimes I did not commit. While inside the jail, I met a 16-year-old carnapping suspect who was a born leader. At his young age, he was able to command prisoners who are old enough to be his father or even his grandfather. I told myself, if only this boy was guided by responsible adults, he could have put his gift of leadership to good use. It was then that God impressed on me the idea of organizing an event for young leaders. It was then that I thought of the Canlubang Young Leaders Congress (CYLC).

Today that event happened — without any corporate sponsors, without any political backing. More than 300 young leaders from 8 schools attended. They printed their own IDs, they composed their own chants, and they paraded with their school flags, similar to the Olympic Games. And they even shared their baon for lunch with other delegates.

These young leaders and their teachers all came and stayed the whole day to listen to a powerhouse cast of speakers, some coming straight from as far as Davao City to share their insights on leadership. My heart is overflowing with gratitude to all those who helped make this event happen. Tama ang kasabihan, pag ginusto ng Diyos, walang imposible. 

I hope this CYLC will usher a renaissance of sorts in our place, with young people waking up to realize that they have the power to chart their future, that they have the power to change their lives and that of their family members.

CYLC — Called to Serve!

Of the total proposed national budget of P3.35 Trillion Department of Education has a proposed P567,561,234,000 budget for 2017, the largest among the various departments in government. This amount is couched under the P1.35 Trillion budget for Social Services, yet government has put its priorities on programs for Peace and Order and Infrastructure.

One only hopes that this amount for education is put to good use, not only to ensure that it does not fall into the cracks of fraud, waste and abuse, but to ensure that it goes into programs and activities resulting from rational thought and sound development that will allow the coming generations of Filipinos to take advantage of the opportunities before them.

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