Matters Beyond Intelligence (Part 1)

In a developing country like the Philippines, Education serves as a ‘ticket’ out of poverty or to a ‘good’ convenient way of life. It constitutes a means for an end which is ‘survival’. Having a college graduate in a family means increased income, economic capacity and social mobility. Thus, families pride take in their graduates especially with earning titles as Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers etc., which are the top earning profession in the country as well.

This is very understandable in our culture that puts a lot of value in hardwork and filial duty. Situations like these indeed bring out true virtues of Filipinos — selflessness towards family. However, there is a threat when Education is considered merely as a means for an end. If overlooked as an end in itself, Education can be corrupted, manipulated and worse, serve wrong purposes and have the youth suffer from it.

Grades, Competition, Fear

Following Education as an economic means, education is thus seen as a form of investment. The return of investment is expected as soon as the student finishes school and starts to join the work force, or when they start to generate income for the family. As a result, ‘Schooling’ is a stage to figure out ‘what we want to be when we grow up”, to get the most out of school, to be trained and to be ready for ‘competitive world of work’ in a distant future. As soon as one is enrolled in school, it is undeniable that the pressure is there for one to gain proper skills, earn good grades and other credentials that will prove one as worthy of being ‘employed’ in the future. Filipino parents (middle and elite class) do not just pick random schools but make sure their kids are among the top schools for them to be the “best among the rest.” As early as this stage, it is a world of competition and survival. But should this be the case?

The short-sightedness of this perspective sends the wrong messages to the youth. Instead of loving learning itself, exploring the world, making experiments, committing mistakes, creating new things, the focus is to create a flawless grade record and outperform classmates. As a result, students get motivated to get better grades and rewards, not because they want to know the world or be able to solve problems in it. Why don’t we bring back the love of learning? When we learn because it is fun, challenging and expands our understanding of the world? When we learn because we “love to” not because we “have to”? It is sad when sometimes I ask students (especially those with the highest ranks) what they remember learning in school in the previous year and they reply to me that they barely recall what they have learned. This shows how we fail to learn in depth and how putting more importance in grades divorce us from the true purpose of learning. The most dangerous thing this could lead to is when we think that learning ends when school ends. The world constantly changes, ideas evolve and new things are discovered. The natural way is for us to continue to learn or be ‘life-long learners’. It is sad that in most cases students cannot wait to finish school because it isn’t fun, but is a burden! How do we bring back the love of learning?

Fear, Drop-outs, Public Schools

It is a shame now that student fear to commit mistakes lest anyone judge them as stupid or having ‘no future’. If students live in fear, creativity would not be possible and the system will just be producing mediocre people. There are schools who constantly rank their students and rely mostly on standardized exams that do not really measure the learning of the students. Students and sadly even parents, rely on these not very authentic measures of intelligence and learning. Also, it is tragic that in our culture, there is a stigma on drop outs. We always consider those who fail school as hopeless and good for nothing. But then, what if the schools systems are the one that failed them? I have been working with out-of school children for years now and I could say that the school system failed them. The schools for one do not understand the needs of these specific children. In Payatas, tuition could be free but add in the cost of projects, payment for classroom electric fans and maintenance stuff, field trips (where grades are based), payment for exam papers, it creates a lot of unnecessary cost! A very funny story I have is about one of our scholars who came to me one day and asked me if she could use her money to buy an Encyclopaedia. I suggested she just borrow encyclopaedia from our library because the cost would deplete her budget. She agreed but I got curious and ask her what would happen if she doesn’t get to bring one. She said they will be sent out of the classroom if they fail to bring an encyclopaedia. I think this is an example of an impossible demand from public school. Imagine 30-40 children bringing 30 -40 individual encyclopaedias when these families cannot even buy decent textbook book. I told her to be honest with her teacher and explain that it is expensive and impossible for her to buy. The next day, I asked for an update and she said that her teacher realized that “Encyclopaedias are expensive”. From this, I urge local Public schools and teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of their students and the community at large. If we do not understand them, how can we help them?

The Out-of-school children I work with are the most hard working kids I know. They may have dropped out of school but they are not stupid, and are not different from other kids. I think it is the school that killed their love of learning. One child confessed to me that she no longer wants to go to school because her teacher physically assaulted her. Another tells me it is difficult to spend the day at school because it is very hot and crowded in the classroom, plus their teachers are always mad. Now we ask, is this a learning environment? When schools feel like torture rooms, we cannot blame the children for disliking it. In the end, it’s lose-lose situation– Students drop-out because Public School is not really affordable, and worse, it has killed their love of learning. Now, the vicious cycle of poverty continues.



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