The key to solving poverty
AROUND 25 million students headed back to school last June 13. This school year marks the full implementation of the K-to-12 program nationwide, which now requires students to complete 12 years of basic education before they enter colleges and universities.
From 1945 to 2011, Filipinos were required to complete only a total of 10 years of basic education—six years in elementary school and four years in high school—before moving on to college. Prior to 1945 or during the American rule, the elementary level consisted of four primary years, three intermediate years, and four years of high school, or a total of 11 years of precollege education.
For the most part of the Spanish colonial period, basic education was provided by the Catholic Church which established parochial schools in parishes. In 1863, Queen Isabella II passed a royal decree mandating free access to public education by all Filipinos. Primary education was made free and the teaching of Spanish was made compulsory in the schools established by Spanish authorities.
Many of our civic, political and business leaders who are 60 years old and older attended public schools for their elementary and high education. These senior leaders brag about the excellent quality of public education during their growing-up years, and they have fond memories of their comprehensive studies in literature, history, and even the strictures of good manners and right conduct.
Our forefathers acquired excellent educational skills even with less than 13 years of primary and secondary education—proof that it is not the length of years but the quality of even lesser years that matters.
I grew up in the 1970s in a small provincial town where kids from poor, middle-income, and rich families all went to the same public elementary school. I have fond memories of and give profuse words of praise to the excellent and dedicated teachers who molded our impressionable young minds.
Nowadays, parents will go to great lengths of financial somersaulting to send their children to private schools. There is now an unspoken feeling of embarrassment when one can only afford to send one’s kids to a public school.
Public schools have become the no-choice destination of children whose parents cannot afford private schools. But we cannot blame parents whose aspiration is to provide their children with the best education.
The decline in the quality of education in our public schools needs to be addressed not merely with a lengthening of the years of schooling but, more crucially, with an investment of considerable resources to improve the quality of those lengthened years. (Something should also be said about the philanthropy of business tycoons who make huge donations to top universities, where school buildings are named after them. A more earnest demonstration of philanthropy would be to channel donations to state universities in the provinces, where improving lives through academic empowerment will create the biggest impact.)
The proliferation of private schools as a hugely profitable line of business—with even business moguls competing to acquire private schools—is a testament to the deterioration in the quality of learning provided by our public schools.
This is most unfortunate because education provides the only means available for poor children to somehow level the playing field with rich children.
We are brought into this world with an unequal distribution of blessings and bad fortune. Some are born to rich families, and many others are born to families mired in grinding poverty. Some are born to irresponsible parents, others are born to exemplary parentage. Some are born with exceptional talent, others are born with extraordinary grit. The illustrations of how we arrive in this world with uneven benediction and misfortune can be endless.
Education enables those who are born with hard luck to have a fair chance at overcoming the misfortune that life has unfairly given them. Of course, there are those who never had adequate education but, through determination and street smarts, were able to build business empires; however, we can count their number with our fingers.
Education has enabled and will continue to enable multitudes of people to escape poverty. Education is poverty’s most effective antidote.
Many of our landless forefathers were able to break free of the poverty that shackled their ancestors to miserable lives because they obtained quality education that equipped them with the skills and know-how to fashion better lives for themselves. Education remains the only ticket available for poor children to escape the cycle of hardship.
Our politicians should realize that no matter how bountiful the treasures they leave to their children and grandchildren, material wealth can disappear in an instant because of irresponsibility, sickness, business reversal, and other life uncertainties that can make their descendants join the ranks of the poor.
And when these descendants get mired in the quicksand of poverty, it will be close to impossible for them to claw their way back to prosperity without a good education. Deprived of resources to attend private schools, they will suffer their forefathers’ neglect of the public school system.
Investing in an excellent public school system is the only way for those who are born into poverty, and those who fall from wealth to poverty, to have a fresh start at competing for life’s bountiful rewards. It is the tried and tested key to solving poverty.
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