Moral poverty

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Z on Unsplash

Each Filipino family or citizen cope as best they can, the collective problem broken down to per unit or individual. National leaders, though, need to look at the whole. Non-stop negatives covering politics, economics, and education can overwhelm directly affected citizens, but more so for societal leaders.

Not all societal leaders are politicians or bureaucrats, yet most are. While there may be business, religious, academic, and labor leaders, national government leaders bear the brunt of the responsibility for poverty. Most recently, we were jolted into attention by the least discussed – learning poverty.

A World Bank report had highlighted the deep learning poverty of children, or the 90% illiteracy of 10-year old’s (I assume that ages eight years to 15 are near that percentage, too), resulting in this age range being unable to read and understand the simple text. It is such a damning consequence of decades of ill management in the public education sector. That also means that students in private schools must be faring much better.

I have read a few articles focusing on learning about poverty and the opinions of a few media and political leaders I respect for their astuteness. One said that our learning poverty is a generational curse, while another opined that we must reform our educational system. I wholeheartedly agree with them. I believe that more aspects of our shocking learning poverty also need to be openly discussed.

Economic poverty has endured over seven decades of Filipino political leadership. While most years were democratic, there was a period of dictatorship which did not do any better. In fact, after the bankruptcy of that dictatorial regime, it took 30 years to pay off the external debt it left behind in 1986. The nuance of extended poverty, much of which was avoidable over those 70 years, simply tells us of another but deeper societal ill–moral poverty.

The poverty of morality is primarily on the shoulders of society’s political, religious, and business leadership. We cannot load the responsibility on the general public, especially not the majority poor, because they do not dictate the direction of national life. They have neither the authority nor the resources; in other words, they do not have the power.

Feudal, dictatorial, or flawed democratic governance took turns mangling the opportunity to use education as a firm platform for solid development. It has been over 70 years since July 4, 1946, and our beginning educational assets were much more superior to others in our region except maybe that of Japan then. In other words, Filipinos were more literate than other Asian countries.

These same feudal, dictatorial, or flawed democratic leaderships did little, if at all, in degrading the literacy of the elite. In fact, the superior education of the colleges and universities were children of the elite studied also produced waves of professionals from the lower economic strata. With our educational superiority, these professionals served not just our capitalists and multinationals but the more developed nations, too.

In recent decades, there have been great leaps in resource allocations toward the public education sector. From subsidized elementary education, we now have reached subsidized collegiate education. The population of public schools and classrooms has grown dramatically, and so have teachers’ salaries. I doubt teachers today know what their older counterparts paid three to four decades ago.

Sadly, or shockingly, as more resources, facilities, and salaries were expanded, literacy went down in relation to our Asian neighbors. Were these caused by myopic perspectives of educational officials or the politicians who appointed them, did mismanagement cause the literacy deterioration or both? If there are studies to compare with more countries outside Asia, I believe we will not score any better.

“The morality of leadership is anchored on the understanding, acceptance, and application of the responsibility to educate our people, especially the young, properly. Did our leaders clearly understand their responsibility as more important than their political and financial ambitions? Were our leaders as short-sighted as their political terms or their profit targets?”

Education is developmental in essence. It is not economical or political but absolutely development in intent and application. I can think of nothing else that can so powerfully degrade our educational system and performance. But if economics and politics dictate education rather than their being the greatest supporters, then economics and politics will effectively set both the priorities and define the programs.

The morality of leadership is anchored on the understanding, acceptance, and application of the responsibility to educate our people, especially the young, properly. Did our leaders clearly understand their responsibility as more important than their political and financial ambitions? Were our leaders as short-sighted as their political terms or their profit targets?

If our political and business leaders did not hold sacred the duty to develop our people via education to become productive and contributory to the nation’s common interests, then that failure over a sustained period has caused our moral poverty. Consequently, our moral poverty will find various expressions in the most critical fields of societal interest, whether political, economic, educational, or material.

Moral poverty has more faces than just education. It displays itself with material poverty that remains unchecked. It comes out in the corrupt political exercise of personal interests over the common good. It persists through the unbridled greed in financial and commercial pursuits and the surrender of time-honored cultural values to money. In other words, driving all types of poverty is the moral dimension.

Addressing the poverty of morality begins at home, with parents and children. I know there are enough Filipinos who worry about the atmosphere their children grow up in and what they learn from various digital media forms. They can only hope that schools and teachers can augment what is begun at home. But If the most known personalities and leaders of critical sectors give bad examples, the current trend of moral poverty will dominate society even more.

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