How will we do in the future?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Tom Sulcer via Wikimedia Commons

Since the lockdown in March 2020, a few friends and I have had a running conversation about the pandemic’s impact on education, particularly the one rolled out through the public school system. Our main concern was the usual consequence of anything dramatic affecting Philippine society, outside of a successful, masa-driven revolution, prejudices the majority poor even more than their minority counterpart.

I recall the priority effort given by the education officials to roll out the K-12 system and why they did so. Purportedly, it was to close the educational gap between Filipino students and countries that were clearly ahead of us. I accept their reasons as having a basis, or the program would not have been pushed so aggressively.

In my mind, though, was a nagging question, and it had more to do with the educational gaps between the premier schools and the public schools. I always thought, and still do, that we should close that domestic gap unless the plan is to deliberately pit our future graduates against the foreign counterparts in foreign lands. If education is the primary platform from which the majority poor are to raise themselves out of poverty, glaring gaps between the premier schools and the public schools will perpetuate the gap between the rich and the poor.

Then, the pandemic happened and is now in its second year. The pandemic did not widen the gap between rich and poor students; possibly, that gap may have improved somewhat because eLearning is a leveling mechanism. Of course, students whose parents can afford much more have an advantage, but they have had this advantage all this time anyway. The government and the Telcos have agreed to be more aggressive in giving more and faster internet coverage to everyone, rich and poor. This more massive coverage will happen faster than roads, bridges, trains, and boats can connect more remote areas to mainstream communities.

I am less concerned about face-to-face classes as well. Face-to-face or eLearning, my concern is the huge gap that is already there between our students depending on which economic category they belong to. The gap was not made in a day, or a year, or a decade. It began before mass education was established in the Philippines and is only one of the consequences in a society with social and economic divides too big to be called just gaps. Its correction, therefore, will take more than a generation IF government and the minority rich will go all out in trying to bridge the chasms. Unless, again, a masa-driven revolution is mounted and succeeds in toppling whatever government is there.

“When there is no visionary leadership and no revolutionary movement as a clear alternative, the extended application of what is old until it becomes decrepit. Frustration, then, has nowhere to vent its tension. Implosion.

Let me assume that the decision-makers in Philippine society do not want a violent overthrow of the current political and economic system. At the same time, even though suspect, let me assume that the same decision-makers will formulate a visionary program directly aimed at making our society more equitable, fund it massively, and enact laws that will sustain the effort for one generation. In my mind, I do not see a halfway solution. The whole world has become so unpredictable and dangerously disruptive. This global pattern encourages radical change where misery has built up resentment over many decades.

When there is no visionary leadership and no revolutionary movement as a clear alternative, the extended application of what is old until it becomes decrepit. Frustration, then, has nowhere to vent its tension. Implosion. In the old playbook of power plays, hidden hands would orchestrate internal conflicts in countries until a revolution erupts. There are no hidden puppeteers this time except an old generation slowly poisoning its own progeny by sheer obsolescence.

I want to ask a simple question. How and what does a twenty- or thirty-year-old person imagine? That person is rearing a three- or seven-year-old child and thinking how that child will develop to be strong and independent. What comes to that young parent’s mind?

I want to ask the simple question but address it to grandparents in their sixties and seventies. How and what do they imagine for children who will go through K-12 and college after that? Can grandparents imagine what the world will be like in 20 to 30 years? Because if they cannot, they should step aside and hand cedes active leadership to those who can.

We were not competitive in the past. We lag in the present. To compete in the future, we play our game more and their game less. Let us build that vision and then prepare to pursue it today and every day.”

Especially in education. Education looks forward to the next 20 to 50 years, one to two generations. Seniors can lend their wisdom and guide active leaders in virtues and values, the should-be ever-enduring foundation of societies. But directionally and graphically, where technology and imagery are concerned, where leaps of science will force nations and peoples to adapt to new discoveries, this is not the moment for seniors just grappling with using all the features of smartphones.

And while I am in this subject matter, they have a new curriculum for the younger student population that they should really evolve, adhering to what is culture-friendly, focused on embedding the mindset of productivity and self-sufficiency in the whole K-12 system. Productivity and self-sufficiency are not school subjects; they are character requirements for both survival and progress. Teachers’ mindsets must be steeped in these or reformed to have this attitudinal horizon define their profession.

We were not competitive in the past. We lag in the present. To compete in the future, we play our game more and their game less. Let us build that vision and then prepare to pursue it today and every day.

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