Koichiro Matsuura, director general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, puts the role of the institution this way: “The very mission of Unesco, dedicated to serving the intellectual and moral solidarity of humanity, is to embrace and promote knowledge as a whole.”
Why this? Knowledge liberated man from the Dark Ages. Knowledge put man on the moon. Knowledge unraveled the secrets of the atom. Knowledge means the future of our children.
It is without argument that “engineers or accountants do not grow on trees.” Quality education means that achievers are bred in schools with excellent teachers. In addition, the gargantuan challenge for Education Secretary Armin Luistro in realizing the value of the K to 12 Program includes, more than the task of implementing an effective curriculum for all, putting into place an efficient administration, building good laboratories and, above all, developing a culture of reading in Filipino children. There’s the rub. The last one might take 100 years or so.
We do not have a Rockefeller Foundation that invested millions of dollars from the family’s oil, steel and coal businesses to bring the best of minds and the biggest stars in mathematics, among them the great John von Neumann, from Europe into the United States. Listening to Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” might give one an impression that education restricts rather than expands individual freedom. This requires a reinterpretation. Parents usually equate good education with private education. The reason is obvious. Public schools do not have enough facilities. Reports of corruption at the Department of Education exacerbate the situation. The common perception is that to give the best quality education, parents must spend their life earnings. While the plain and simple view is that education is the best possible investment, many poor families in the rural areas simply resign themselves to their fate. This is the harsh reality in a country that ranks second to none in kidnapping and useless game shows.
However, 40 of the Philippines’ businessmen are on a list in Forbes magazine, a list that excludes two of the most brilliant, MVP and RSA. If we calculate the billions of dollars in assets of these 40 gentlemen, it means simply that the country must have created huge wealth. The problem is that the brains of the best of our men and women who work in big Philippine corporations built this enormous pile of money for the rich. Something must have gone wrong along the way.
While poverty may strip us of the requirements for a life well-lived, our thirst for wisdom stays with us even in the most difficult of circumstances. It is for this reason that above everything else, education must make us better human beings. We do not go to school just to become mechanical engineers, account technicians, or computer scientists. The fundamental reason school matters—if it matters at all—is that it opens children to the vast expanse of the universe. It tells the child of his or her vast potential and the never ending possibilities of becoming.
Thus, investing in education simply means securing the future of our children. Jeffrey Sachs writes in “The End of Poverty” that almost all developed nations spend a huge part of their national budgets in educating their people. Elementary students in Finland learn at least five languages in their first few years. France has real philosophers teaching in its schools; in fact, it is the only country that lists “philosopher” as a profession.
Parents usually blame the government for the miserable state of Philippine education. But there’s something that parents must do to change the destiny of our nation. We have been losing our children to the Republic of Facebook. Children log thousands of hours using this modern form of social interface. Facebook makes human relationships “portable.” But the final outcome is a child who knows nothing about the history of his or her nation, a child ignorant of the difference between a quark and an atom, and a child poorer by choosing Lady Gaga as an idol.
President Aquino’s good governance may not necessarily mean that the country will be able to emerge from being the sick man of Asia. It only means savings from the fact that we have a President who is not corrupt. While this government might finally be able to build 40,000 classrooms in the next two years to close the gap, the education of our children still depends deeply on the understanding of parents of their role as first teachers to their own.
But what is the point in all these? In “Development as Freedom,” Amartya Sen writes: “Bertrand Russell, who was a firm atheist, was once asked what he would do if, following his death, he were to encounter God after all. Russell is supposed to have answered, ‘I will ask him: God Almighty, why did you give so little evidence of your existence?’…” I say that Russell is in heaven now, the simple reason being that he took the courage to campaign for human rights, to fight nuclear proliferation, to write pages upon pages of insight in order to share his intelligence and finally become a beacon of hope to the world. In the end, it is not what you say that will matter. It is what you do for your fellow human beings. This is what education is all about.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc is an assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University and the president of the Social Ethics Society (Mindanao).