Expanding education

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

In this space, we have touted education as a source of nation building and development for a long time. What we need to make sure is that our education system is producing students who can contribute, not only to national well being and development, but personal well being. There needs to be added emphasis in the social sciences as well as science and technology.

Graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) provide a workforce necessary for developing industry. They provide the necessary human capital for innovation. At the moment, one statistic that we saw says that only two out of every one hundred Philippine college graduates has a degree in a science or mathematics related field. There is only one school we know of that is encouraging students to enter these fields. Without them, we will not have the sufficient human capital to become competitive on a global scale. It is not only increasing the quantity and quality of STEM graduates, but ensuring that all students have a fundamental grounding in science and mathematics.

Social studies can be used as the entry point for the sciences, as well as a vehicle for promoting critical thinking, analysis and multi-disciplinary thought. Properly presented social sciences acts as the bridge between what is learned in the classroom and its application in real world situations. The teaching of liberal arts, coupled with an improved understanding of science and mathematics helps prepare students to engage the modern world on an equal footing.

The UNESCO Philippines puts the importance of social sciences as: “Scientific support for civics and social studies recommends that formal learning strengthen its programs to train youth and teachers in the use of critical reasoning…Currently, the exact, natural and physical sciences are acknowledged in basic education but not the social and human sciences. Adding the scientific viewpoint to studying and creating society would enrich Social Studies and its civic functions while assuring generational abilities in critical and creative thinking toward career mastery and social reform.” At the moment, we are not preparing our students to take their place in global society. Instead, we are creating a labor force and limiting their opportunities. Social Studies and science and mathematics are not exclusive, properly harmonized they are building blocks.

The Philippine primary school enrolment rates and retention are poor relative to our economic standing as a country. According to the UN Education For All (EFA) 2009 Report: “In the Philippines, marginalization is strongly associated with poverty and location, with the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and some outlying islands falling far behind.” Marginalization refers to poverty and its attendant iniquities. An improvement in peace and order situation would improve enrolment rates in certain areas, as well as providing economic incentives. As the EFA Report exhorts, more funding (properly deployed) must be allocated to ensuring that the marginalized Filipinos have access to quality education. Programs like conditional cash transfers linked to education should be pursued.

Any move must also start with our teachers. Teachers are the most important resource in providing our students a quality education. This means they must be provided with the proper training, tools and resources to properly do their jobs. It has been brought up before, but training and recruitment programs (along with an increase in basic compensation) must be implemented.

Policy shifts like moving to a twelve-year education cycle, introducing social studies for civic and citizenship development and improving science and mathematics go to improving the quality of education. Textbooks, which we understand from recent reports remain riddled with errors, must be improved. Infrastructure and basic supplies have to be built and acquired. System loss to inefficiency and corruption must be eliminated. While the problems facing education are multi-faceted, properly targeted programs and increased spending can pay immediate dividends. Education is in need of reform. It is the future of the country at stake.

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