Reflection on Education–SOS July 2012

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be maintained.”

James A. Garfield

School is mandatory for all children.  Those were the words reverberating in my mind day in and day out as I woke up early every morning to prepare myself for school no matter where I lived, be it in North America, Europe or Northern Africa.  As a child, going to school was a burden.  School brought many chores and homework and was a large demand on my time.  School also provided me with friends, new books, new (to me) clothes and interaction with teachers who opened my eyes to the world.

It wasn’t until middle school that I started appreciating the education that I was getting, as reading novels became a huge hobby of mine.  Through novels, I progressed to ‘How to’ manuals, philosophy and scientific books that greatly broadened my horizons and exposed me to many ideas in the comfort of my home.  Thus my education became a self-sustaining tool, enabling me to educate myself further…but it would have been extremely difficult without my elementary and high school years to provide a foundation for my life’s learning.

In the Philippines today, I am often reminded by many that current and past administrations hail the farmer as the backbone of the nation, the military as the safe-keepers of the nation, natural resources as the key to the development of the nation and the Lumads as the cultural treasure & heritage of the nation.  As for education, during his campaign, President Aquino stated the following:  “If we fix basic education, we fix the long-term problems of the country. And if we fix the country’s problems, we will build a truly strong society we can proudly call the Philippines.” (Philstar 2011)[1]

If.  If ‘we’ fix basic education…has basic education been fixed?  Basic education starts with funds, just like anything else.  However unlike the other budget allotments, education has a high rate of return.  The more money given, the higher the return benefits.  Despite this truth, a truth only acknowledged locally by parents, teachers and concerned wealthy benefactors, governments continue to short change the education budget.  Do you need to increase military spending?  Do you need money for renovating the presidential vehicles?  Do you need extra funds to deal with calamities?  Search no longer, that’s what the education budget is for, to be cut and spent elsewhere.

The situation of the Mamanwa evacuees in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte and the attacks on Lumad community schools:  A disruption of the school year at best, at worst the long term cessation of the education of isolated communities.  An oft-interrupted education is a poor education indeed.  All of these schools are being attacked by military and paramilitary groups, groups that are operating under the authority of the national government of the Philippines.  A national government whose current figurehead made a vow to fix education…

Mamanwa children participating in psychoanalysis. (Photo credit: Rhai de Castro)

“The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.”

Martin Buber

In my country we have a saying:  You can’t fix what ain’t broke.  The schools under attack are the ones who are making a push for free and fair education.  These schools provide education of the people, by the people and for the people.  To fix the long term problems of the Philippines, the Aquino administration is pulling out the weeds of independent, free, and affordable education of the marginalized, to nurture new generations into a ‘a truly strong society we can proudly call the Philippines,’ a proud nation and society based in the visions of the elite.

“A quality education has the power to transform societies in a single generation, provide children with the protection they need from the hazards of poverty, labor exploitation and disease, and given them the knowledge, skills, and confidence to reach their full potential.”

Audrey Hepburn

 The policies of governments today puzzle me: a willingness to spend billions of dollars on military technologies yet next to none on education; the oppression and silencing of the few educational institutions that are improving the lives of marginalized people; the myriad of promises churned out during election years spurned during office and the unspoken commitments of making the rich richer, and the poor poorer.  Free and compulsory education is a human right stated by the United Nations, but a free and compulsory quality education is the struggle of oppressed peoples in Mindanao and worldwide.

 -Adam Shaw, Missionary, Philippines. United Methodist Church


[1]As a Matter of Fact by Sara Soliven de Guzman. The Philippine Star. March 21, 2011

(http://www.philstar.com)

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