K-to-12 and why every child deserves to be in school
The idea of competition in the Philippine education system embodies the theory of the “selfish gene” as espoused by Richard Dawkins.
The mindset of some institutional leaders has not gone beyond the biological and evolutionary notion of competition, believing that what there is to life is a matter of “survival of the fittest.” The victors march their way to Roman glory; the vanquished are consigned to a life of ignominy. Modern civilization is supposed to provide men and women a fuller understanding of the value of human reason, and that is, their being responsible for their fellow human beings. But the project of the Enlightenment—knowledge—is a total disaster. As science advances, more and more people are left behind because the genetic lottery defines for some of us the meaning of success and failure.
For example, policymakers suggest that we have to compete economically with the rest of the world. It is an idea that they oversimplify from a curricular point of view by suggesting that everything is a matter of “job matching.” As our schools churn out hundreds of thousands of graduates each year, all of them add to the unemployment statistics. But you send a child to school and hope that he or she gets the best possible education, not because you want the child to be useful someday; rather, you educate a child because you want this child to grow into a mature human being, fully responsible and conscious of his or her moral obligation to society.
We often hear the opinion that bright students deserve free college education through scholarships because of their higher mental aptitude. This is wrong. It is wrong because it interprets the notion of just entitlement on the basis of intelligence alone. Each and every person deserves good education no matter what. It is for this reason that it is a right and not a privilege. The idea that it is only when one is “poor and intelligent” that one is entitled to a college degree does not only disadvantage the poor and “not so intelligent,” but, more dangerously, such a scheme excludes the latter from achieving better opportunities in life.
This notion of favoring the intelligent yet poor is a practical concern rather than a matter of principle. Since the government lacks the money for “education for all,” it gives priority to “deserving” students. What this means is that those children who are judged as not very good on the basis of a qualifying exam, for instance, will have to settle for a life that is less than happy. This is a classic case of how social constructions of notions of desert impede the real growth and development of individuals.
A child’s mind is not impervious to growth and change. Our leaders forget the fact that the intellectual achievement of a child is also affected by the kind of school environment he or she has been exposed to. Since the majority of our children study in decrepit and underfunded schools, millions of future adult citizens of the country can say goodbye to an ideal life because he or she is not endowed with a higher intellectual gene. The positive expectations from this K-to-12 program are rather contrived, to say the least. Education is not only meant to make students more intelligent; it is, more importantly, also meant to free people from oppression.
But there are very few students whose future is guaranteed by the fact that they get to be taught by the country’s best scholars and minds. The right thing to do, in this regard, is to upgrade the quality of education in all schools in the country. Obviously, this cannot be attained by simply revamping the curriculum. You have to give teachers, both in public and in private schools, enough motivation and the kind of respect that they deserve by improving their pay.
There is this classic debate in Chinese philosophy about the necessity of a “good system” or the “paradigmatic leader.” On one hand, it is argued that a good system will guarantee that people will follow rules and thereby secure peace and harmony in society. On the other hand, there is this argument that such a system will not work without the charisma of a benevolent or moral leader. In the end, however, it is the people who will matter. If people remain ignorant, systems will be useless; and if people are easily manipulated, charismatic leaders turn into vultures.
The problems we face each and every single day, our political immaturity included, simply mean that we have not invested in our future. This suffering begins at the very moment that a person enters a school with incomplete facilities and a nonexistent library. Of course, it is not always a bad thing to be put in such an environment. There are children who rise to the occasion to defeat fate and design for themselves a better way of life. There is always hope. Yet, to depend on the success of a few bright kids will never change the kind of society that we have.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc teaches philosophy at the Ateneo de Davao University. He holds a master’s degree in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.