Catching up to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals 2015 (Part I)

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - July 24, 2014 - 12:00am

(Part II -- The giant leaps for mankind within the new millennium)

At the onset of the New Millennium, UNESCO has called the attention of our country heads, former presidents Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the current President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III to use the UN Millennium Development Goals for 2000-2015 as the basis of their “Plan of Action” for their national agenda. According to the annual UN Country Report Program the Philippines has been meeting 6 out of the 8 goal except two. These are “halving the extreme poverty rate” and “access to quality primary education.” Both goals are closely connected to each other.

DESD (2005-2015) to supplement the UNMDG

To complement this, in 2005, then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan tasked UNESCO DG Koichiro Matsuura to declare the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2015. All conventional educational systems of poor countries particularly in Latin America, Africa and Asia were urged to be re-engineered to uphold the economic independence of their citizens. Both goals are closely related to one another.

What can President Benigno Aquino III claim in achieving these when the UNMDG concludes next year in 2015? Within his six years of governance, has he called into action his cabinet men in charge of local government, education, social welfare, transport and communication, justice, defense, labor, foreign affairs, trade and finance to unite and reinforce these 21st century millennium goals for the Philippines?

Lack of functional literacy – the cause of persistent poverty

As early as 1986, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Salvador Laurel appointed me to represent the Philippines in the UNESCO Executive Board in Paris. This UN agency has been championing literacy programs, to eradicate poverty.

Adult literacy rate in the Philippines has barely changed in spite of the 1986 launching of the Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE). People know how to read and write but are not able to comprehend the hidden concept between the lines. This bureau provides informal functional literacy course outside conventional schools, leading to grade school/high school equivalency courses to qualify adult school leavers for employment. DECS Minister Dr. Lourdes Quisumbing also headed the National Coordinating Council for Literacy Education (now, the Literacy Coordinating Council) in the Philippines, in compliance with the UNESCO Asia Pacific Education for Adult Literacy (APPEAL) and Education for All (EFA). The yearly “hoopla” selected a national literacy champion among city mayors, a literacy Indigenous People (IP) teacher and the most effective literacy program. This was popularized during former presidents’ governance of Madame Corazon Aquino and Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, then, faded away as the funding decreased without having inspired the DILG to carry on the practice.

Can governors and mayors help the poor to help themselves?

Local government should give importance to non-formal education that will empower underprivileged women and men who are oblivious to Grooming and Hygiene, better Housekeeping, Horticulture and Animal Husbandry, systematic and sensible Childcare, Cooking and Nutrition. These are the activities of the Parentcraft Literacy course for rural and urban poor which our OB Montessori Child and Community Foundation has been employing for the past 30 years to complement the Pagsasarili Preschool activities with our partnership with some NCR, Ifugao, Pampanga and Batangas mayors.

Ultimately, these skills could become backyard businesses. The women folks can be employed as reliable caregivers, housekeepers, carinderia (food stall) owners when their older children begin to attend schools. The model of Parentcraft school-house is a modernized, reinforced, large “bahay kubo” can be seen in the O.B. Montessori quadrangle in Eisenhower, Greenhills.

Who among the hundreds of governors and thousands of mayors in the country would sincerely care for their constituents? Can they elevate the lifestyle of the nation?  Belonging to political dynasties, governors and mayors have neglected their moral obligation as civil servants.

Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion to broaden possibilities of employment

It’s just natural for teenagers to seek economic independence. If only our school system and local government recognize and develop the strong potentials of our disadvantaged young adults in high school, employment wouldn’t have been a problem. Christopher, my grandson in Los Angeles, took up Basic Forensic in their well-equipped La Habra High School, since he excels in chemistry and math. His older brother, Cyrus instead, took an intensive 1-year course as a Pharmacy technician and was promoted yearly at CVS. Last year he shifted to Surgical Technology and chose to work with an orthopedic surgeon. Why don’t we have more options for health services here instead of having to go to an expensive and very lengthy medical course? All doctors, whether dental, cardiovascular, renal or neurological need trained technicians.

 The senior high schools in Germany, Italy, Australia, Japan, Korea, etc. prioritize technical courses that readily employ their citizens. They provide well-equipped workshop and craftsmen or expert technicians for various occupations like automotive or welding at Saarbrucken, Germany; butchery and cuisine in the Melbourne Technical High School; florist and kennel care classes in Saul’s Farm in Philadelphia; bricklaying and other construction skills in the Brunei Darussalam Technical School. Thailand has successfully promoted OTOP (“one village, one craft”) promoting indigenous herbal balls for massage, very fine kitchen cutlery, wood carved wall murals, etc. Our DILG could conserve our own cottage industries but must have craftsmen refine them to perfection.

Two thirds of their senior high school students end up taking these training courses while the rest who are academically inclined go to the university as practiced in dual-training high school programs. May I suggest to GO NEGOSYO founder Joey Concepcion to redirect his entrepreneurial campaign to grass-root level instead of glamorizing big time businessmen who merely frustrates the modest ambition of our poor unemployed countrymen?

Professional skills lead to better employability

Education in many Asian countrieshave addressed realistically the basic needs of the citizens by training rank and file technicians. This is not yet happening in the Philippines, where underprivileged parents dream of having their sons and daughters become business managers in spite the fact that a company is headed by one or two managers, yet normally employ more or less a hundred technicians. The TESDA technical training program has not succeeded in empowering our under privileged young adults. The country has a backlog in properly trained technician, who can demand higher salaries. This will happen only if they pass Professional Regulatory Commission (PRC) qualifications. The American colonial governance of the Philippines gave importance to vocational education, but it was not adequately encouraged after the American school superintendents were replaced by their Filipino deputies when we gained independence in 1946. The so-called voc-tech bureau of the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) lost its popularity being associated with manual laborer. Parents were conditioned to send their child to the basic education, whose end goal is the 4-year college course. Rural parents who were farmers or fishermen have been misled to think that only a four-year college diploma could employ their children and raise their life from poverty. Having sold their small farmland to give them their opportunity, they were frustrated when their college diplomas failed to employ them.

The regular services of a technically trained carpenter, electrician, plumber, garage mechanic, etc are always in demand, yet they are not available. Instead people are forced to hire untrained and unlicensed utility repairmen with primitive skills. Caregivers for infants, the sick and the aged have no training at all. They are mostly school leavers from the countryside, rural folks whose primary education usually reverts to Grade I.

Crimes keep increasing because cities have only 50% of the police force required. What about firefighters, security guards, coastal guards needed in our vast archipelago and air force personnel to secure our lives? Why is there no regular recruitment for training? What about the professional training of the road repair maintenance crew including environmental sanitation and beautification personnel? We badly need technical schools with functional literacy component to put the disadvantaged Filipinos to work.

The eventful century

More inventions have been devised and put to use since 1900 than in the rest of human history put together. A child born in 1900 entered a world where no one had yet flown in an airplane, used a vacuum cleaner or seen a television program. Even a child born nearly half a century later, in the aftermath of World War II, was coming into a world where computers were known only to a handful of research scientists, the transistor had yet to be invented, and the vast majority of the people who crossed the Atlantic each year still did so by ship, not plane.

Nations undergo a maturation period. Prosperous countries have citizens who are hard working and earning well. To be marching along the 21st century civilization, what stage of development have Filipinos reached if half of us are still living within the primitive “bahay kubo” period? Unless each family develops sustainability, we shall remain ignorant in electing the right leaders from whom we can demand our rights to a happy and peaceful life.

(For feedback email at precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

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