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Educated public critical to democracy

The tagline for the 2017 Audi A4’s ad campaign is: “Intelligence is the new rock and roll.” Audi of America marketing director Loren Angelo said the idea came up because “technology is immersed in every aspect of culture and life today, and its impact is undeniable.”

That tagline could very well be the global clarion call for meaningful and inclusive education reform.

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Education is one of 15 interdependent global challenges facing humanity today, according to the Millennium Project. The specific question is: “How can education and learning make humanity more intelligent, knowledgeable, and wise enough to address its global challenges?”

The Millennium Project, founded in 1996, is an independent, nonprofit, global and participatory think tank of futurists, scholars, business planners and policymakers who work for international organizations, governments, corporations, NGOs, and universities. It manages a coherent and cumulative process that collects and assesses judgments from over 3,500 people selected by its 56 nodes worldwide.

Some of the global challenges—like sustainable development and climate change, sufficient clean water, new and reemerging illnesses, and population growth—are stern reminders that the world’s resources are finite and must be used judiciously. Others—like ethical market economies and the global convergence of information and communications technology—will certainly help us navigate an uncertain future if we can address them adequately. (The full list may be viewed at www.millennium-project.org.)

Information is readily available today to anyone with a decent Internet connection—and that’s where the problem begins for countries like the Philippines. According to Google, two-thirds of the world’s population do not yet have Internet access. Google aims to correct this situation through a network of specially designed balloons floating in the stratosphere. The audacious effort is called, quite whimsically, Project Loon.

Says Google: “Project Loon balloons float twice as high as airplanes and the weather. By partnering with telecommunications companies to share cellular spectrum we’ve enabled people to connect to the balloon network directly from their phones and other LTE-enabled devices. The signal is then passed across the balloon network and back down to the global Internet on Earth.”

The pilot run of Project Loon in the southern hemisphere in 2013 yielded encouraging results, but also revealed implementation issues. Project lead Mike Cassidy said the first balloons could stay afloat for only a few hours before developing leaks. Today, it takes Google just a few hours to make durable balloons that can stay afloat for 100 days. Upscaling the balloon network is Google’s next big challenge.

Mark Zuckerberg is also working toward universal Internet access using the immensely popular Facebook.

But amid all that, the issue of education quality remains.

All public schools under the Department of Education will be shifting to the K-to-12 basic system this school year. Meanwhile, the Commission on Higher Education’s latest reform agenda underscores higher education’s strategic value in poverty alleviation, human capital formation and technology-driven national development and global competitiveness. Furthermore, Tesda’s technical-vocational institutions have been busily retooling their training regulations to meet the increasing demand for tech-based competencies and skills.

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The quality imperatives of these three national education agencies respond in part to the labor department’s statistics showing a steadily rising employment demand in the information technology and business process management industry. The IT BPM industry and its subsectors (i.e., health information management, software development, shared services, animation, contact center services, and game development) are all looking at significant growth between now and 2022.

The Millennium Project notes: “Fundamental changes in education and learning will be critical, as low-cost universal artificial intelligence, robotics, and other technologies will transform the nature of work over the next generation or two. If intelligent technology will replace most repetitive human labor, then many argue education and learning just focus on creativity, problem solving, entrepreneurship, tolerance, compassion, and increasing intelligence.”

But the eminent educator Jose V. Abueva’s query still needs an answer: “Education for what, and for whom?” Of what value is a high-performing education system if it does not transform society?

The Philippines is still a fledgling democracy, having broken free of the Marcos dictatorship only in 1986. Freedom House lists the country as “partly free.” On a scale of 1-7 (from best to worst), Filipinos’ political rights, civil liberties and freedom are rated 3. Our journey toward genuine democracy and political maturity continues to be very difficult.

The Millennium Project believes that “an educated and correctly informed public is critical to democracy; hence, it is important to learn how to counter and prevent various ideological disinformation campaigns, information warfare, politically motivated government censorship, reporters’ self-censorship, and interest-group control over the Internet and other media.”

Quality education in our schools is our best hope for cultivating an economically and politically stable society that is intelligent enough to appreciate the lessons of history, and wise enough to unmask the ambitions of corrupt politicians and petty demagogues. The late Haydee Yorac once said Filipinos deserve who we elect. I say we deserve nothing less than national leaders who hold our rights and the rule of law above all else.

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: democracy, education, Elections 2016, K to 12, Millennium Project, Project Loon
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