Far too often, it is loosely said that education is the way to go. In the last few decades, education is especially portrayed as the best way out of poverty.
It is difficult to focus on the subject matter of education without grounding ourselves on what education means. Naturally, education is a big word and has many nuances. Education primarily refers to the process of receiving or giving systematic instructions, or both the act of teaching knowledge to others and the act of receiving knowledge from someone else. In our modern times, education is also framed within a school or university setting.
In the minds of many societies, the importance of education is its mission and capacity to develop critical thinking. In other words, while receiving knowledge is integral to education, it is not the purpose of education to simply build a storage facility in students. Rather, it is what students do with what is stored in their memory banks, making critical thinking the more important goal of education.
At schooling age, and especially at the earlier stages, the role of education as the process of receiving or giving systematic instructions is highlighted. It is because students at very young ages both need and can only accept instructions at that level. The more sophisticated nuances of education are applicable only when the firm foundation of receiving and giving instructions is built. Only after is receiving and giving knowledge, the other major way of defining education, possible.
Of course, the meaning of education is easier understood when broken down into subjects or topics being taught. This convenient way of understanding education is very narrow, though, when taken out of context from the important goal of developing critical thinking. In other words, the subjects being taught may be wrongly viewed as separate from one another. Different as they are, they are also meant to be ultimately woven into one knowledge and application base in every student.
Knowledge stored and memorized may be key for children, but knowledge applied in daily life and human interaction is always a key result that we want to see and monitor among students. At any given milestone of education, or assessing the quality of its development, the volume of knowledge and its appropriate application are the primary concern.
Let me bring in at this point another meaning of education, the more meaningful one for me, and more critical, too, for Philippine education. Education is also defined as an enlightening experience – enlightening for students, enlightening for teachers. The quality of the student’s and teacher’s enlightenment from the earliest to the latest stages of education is actually the key measure of education; perhaps, the only meaningful measurement.
I cannot avoid bringing back to mind that disastrous learning poverty we are experiencing today. Actually, we must have been deteriorating for decades and have been ineffective in arresting the slide of education in the country. Our learning poverty is particularly painful and challenging because it has developed all the while the government has been adding more funds for education.
There was a time when most Filipino youth did not graduate high school. Poverty was the main cause as many children had to help their parents eke out a living. Or parents simply could not afford to support their children’s education and meals while in school. But that has greatly improved in the last two decades and the majority of students now do finish high school.
After heavily subsidizing elementary and secondary education, including related programs like Conditional Cash Transfer which supports school attendance of children of the very poor, more than 90% of Filipinos now go to school and the vast majority will finish high school. One would think that the quantity of education, meaning most young Filipinos do go to school, would lift the education status of our young.
Shockingly, the latest World Bank assessment on global learning poverty has the Philippines at the bottom in our region with 9 out of 10 Filipino children cannot seem to read and understand instructions. What a shameful blow to our educational system, the efficiency of education leaderships, and national governance as well. Forget critical thinking when 10-year-old children cannot read and understand simple instructions.
Without critical thinking, the whole program is headed to a horrible failure. Without critical thinking, only fractured enlightenment is possible. Without critical thinking, Filipino youth cannot thread the many subjects they are taught. And they would not be in a position to apply their in-school education to daily life.
To assume an intellectual deficiency among our young would be very wrong. To assume a teaching inefficiency would be right, but only partly so, if by teaching we mean giving lessons in various subject matters. But to assume a clear separation between education and life in general or culture in particular, would be disastrous.
Our culture has always taught us that we say what we mean, and we do what we say. The virtue of integrity starts in a very simplified manner, to be in integrity with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Parents are great teachers and models, way before school teachers, but parents must be consistent in their words and their behavior. Because behavior teaches more effectively than words, especially among the young.
Truth is the main keeper of order. It is the universal platform of understanding that connects us all. When the truth is sacrificed for any reason, our sense of order is sacrificed as well. In the age of disinformation, those who actively place the fake and false over the real and the truth are criminals against societal order on all fronts. Unfortunately, our young are very vulnerable prey.
When our youth cannot read and understand instructions, they cannot distinguish between truth and lie either. There will be no workplace that will accept employees who are unable to understand instructions, and also unable to stand by the truth. Very scary prospects, indeed.
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