Irrigating mental deserts
TOKYO — Clive Staples Lewis (C. S. Lewis), best known for his very popular children’s book, “The Chronicles of Narnia,” once said that “the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”
It was World Teachers’ Day last Friday, Oct. 5. I thought that, for today’s piece, I would contribute to that day of celebration, however belated. Almost every teacher who has a social media account got different expressions of thanks, complete with virtual bouquets of flowers and sweet words from their students in different parts of the country and the world.
But then, I thought of C. S. Lewis’ quote. And I can’t help but ponder on some of the more unsavory realities about teachers and academics in our country, specifically those who have chosen to go the easy, lazy way of “cutting down jungles” instead of “irrigating deserts.”
Here at Rikkyo University, I observe that Japanese professors are provided with opportunities and logistic support to undertake field researches in their respective fields of specialization, and are supported through grants from their universities and various funding sources, including business companies that are required to contribute to corporate social responsibility. More importantly, they are entitled to sponsor scholars from other parts of the world to come to their campuses for intercultural exchanges that spur intellectual “irrigation,” not only among their colleagues, but also among their students and other interested parties.
This is more of an expression of envy rather than comparison, because comparing Japan and the Philippines is baseless. But it is worth asking our government if it is possible at all to create an environment for Filipino professors to become truly
educators in C. S. Lewis’ mold — to irrigate deserts rather than just cut down jungles, figuratively speaking.
Many Philippine teachers, especially at the basic education level, struggle to be creative in their teaching due to lack of basic educational supplies like chalk, drawing paper, even ordinary bond paper. In some parts of Mindanao, supplies are scrimped to divert the money to the pockets of some education officials.
When teachers are invited to educational conferences, they have to spend their own money first before they will be reimbursed, usually after six months. In some state universities in Mindanao, professors who get invitations for seminars may get fully funded prior to their travel only if they are in a “position of strength” (in other words, malakas) vis-à-vis their administrators. Otherwise, they, too, have to use their own
It is not surprising that some so-called educators go the easy way of cutting the metaphorical jungles in the education process, making students know things through rote learning instead of preparing thoroughly for lessons that spark students’ creativity and critical thinking. Teachers no longer read to expand their knowledge of their respective fields, and rely mostly on yellowed pages of their old notebooks. Some do not update themselves on new technologies that would help them create opportunities for students to become more abreast of current events and issues.
But perhaps the most serious aberration in the academe these days is the presence of charlatans and credit-grabbing research managers disguising as professors or scientists. They profit from the backbreaking research efforts of their assistants and students and claim these as their own. In their classroom teaching, they never spark creativity and higher order critical thinking skills, since they cannot provide what they do not have.
These fake professors have become mental deserts themselves, and badly need intellectual irrigation to be able to function as true modern-day educators, as C. S. Lewis would like them to be.
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