Education: The key to life
() - September 11, 2011 - 12:00am

Some may deride the methodology of the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings as mere “Dr. Kwak Kwak” — meaning it is not really reliable — but the recent results showing that none of our universities made it to the Top 300 rankings is disturbing just the same. In contrast, our Asian neighbors — Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, South Korea — made it to the Top 50. Taiwan made it to the Top 100 while 16 of China’s Universities landed in the coveted Top 300 rankings. At least one South African university made it to the list.

Aside from UP, Ateneo and La Salle also slid further down the QS ladder — making it seem like the two rivals are only good in sports but not in quality education. While I totally disagree with that assessment, there definitely is room for improvement — mainly more quality professors.

Several years ago, I came across a paper by Dr. Ronald Meinardus (of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty) where he said that a nation’s chances of economic development are greatly increased if it has more and better educated people. He described the world we live in today as a “knowledge society” wherein “education and information have become production factors potentially more valuable than labor and capital.” 

Unfortunately, experts noted that the quality of education in the Philippines has been degenerating continuously in the last three decades — compounded by the fact that government resources are stretched too thinly because there are just too many students with too little resources. Every year when classes start, we keep hearing and reading about the same problems — millions more have been added to the student population but we do not have enough teachers and classrooms to cope with the huge population. What’s more, only a handful of schools have computers and other teaching tools that could bring Filipino students up to par in a technology-driven world.

Many people I have talked with can only feel envy at news that countries like South Korea are prepared to invest over $2 billion to revolutionize their educational system by converting all paper textbooks into digital versions by 2015. They plan to use smart phones, tablet computers, smart TVs and other electronic devices to increase online classes and deliver course curriculum through cloud computing. Not surprising considering that 15-year-old students from South Korea rank No. 2 in PISA (Programme of International Student Assessment) tests after Shanghai, China.

Some may snicker at the proposal of Lito Lapid to lessen the weight of books carried by children to school as silly, but it’s practical and realistic. Health experts have already concluded that carrying so many thick books (many of them with substandard text and material) can cause permanent damage to a child’s limbs.

The idea to provide free Kindle e-Book readers to public school students (starting from grade school) utilizing a “text for education” campaign to fund the Kindle project and upgrade the salary of teachers is a very good project. No doubt the use of Kindle will not only rid children of the potential risks of carrying heavy school bags; it will make education more fun and interactive since studies have noted that children learn more easily with the use of computers and other smart gadgets.

Lest we forget, the quality of teachers also has a lot to do with quality education. It’s rather disheartening to note that many of our best ones are leaving the country for higher pay elsewhere and are reaping awards and recognition to boot — what is worse is that some are migrating abroad to work as something else other than educators to get better pay. The advocacy of our friend, San Miguel chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., to provide full scholarships for educators via his foundation is worth noting.  ECJ’s initiative is an example of how big business can help improve the quality of education in this country. As one expert noted, successful countries realize that investing in education requires a long-term vision and consistent planning, with the pay-off only realized after a decade or so.

For people who truly want to be charitable, the best thing they can bequeath to poor children is a good education, because education is the great equalizer and the only tool that can help them uplift their lives and release them from the chain of poverty. The sad reality is that more often than not, a lot of poor kids end up as school dropouts, with only six out of 10 students able to finish grade six. Of those who go to high school, about 40 out of a hundred are likely to continue with college — and out of this 40, only 14 will most likely graduate.

One of the best gifts in life is to see what good education can do to a family. I had the fortunate experience with my driver who worked with me for 35 years and retired recently. One of the benefits I gave him was to help him in the education of his children. Proudly, my driver sent his children to good schools. In fact, his eldest son graduated at the Ateneo.  Last month, I bumped into my former driver’s son at the Sta. Elena Golf Club — and I was pleasantly surprised to know that this young man has done extremely well for himself, running his own company and is now a member of the club — and a good golfer at that, I might add! This is clearly a prime example of how education can, indeed, be “the key to life.”

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