By Milwida M. Guevara
My grandnephew Matthew is a source of pride and wonder to me. His essays are elegantly written and show a grasp of the English language that is extraordinary. I will always be unable to write as brilliantly as he does because he is truly exceptional. And if just to keep me in constant awe, he has been awarded a scholarship by a renowned university abroad. He works very hard in his studies which he beautifully described in one of his written works, “A Workaholic’s Guide to Burnout.”
Matthew is a product of a very good school. He has devoted parents who attend to all his needs. They are there in every school function, guide him religiously, and spend their weekends listening to his stories and just having fun. He also inherited great genes from my father. What a happy and a fortunate creature!
And then Motmot from Sarangani comes to my mind. He lives at the foot of a mountain and walks several kilometers to go to school. When I first met him, he was so shy and did not know what to do with the lollipops I brought. I was told that it was his first time to see one. Who knows, the genes which Motmot carries must have been great too. But unfortunately, he did not have the same opportunities that Matthew has. He did not have books at home, not even a radio. The pencil that he had in his hand was tinier that his index finger. And there were times that he had to absent himself from school because his father needed help in the farm. I could not help but wonder what great essays he could have written if he grew in an environment that Matthew has. Poverty causes such great divide among children and the poor ones have a thousand and one bottlenecks to overcome.
The stories of Matthew and Motmot are about inequity in our education system. We produce the best and the brightest. But we also have thousands of underserved children who could be the best and the brightest, but are not.
The 2018 World Bank Development Report is about Learning. I had the privilege to listen Dr. Halsey Rogers, one of the team leaders who prepared the report. Although the Philippines was not part of the study because we stopped participating in the International Math and Science Study (TIMMS) starting 2004, the story that the World Bank narrates is our story as well. Before our children start schooling, they are already greatly disadvantaged. Hunger and malnutrition impair their brain development. Poverty limits their exposure to learning opportunities and social development. They get very little learning support from their parents who are just too pre-occupied with working for their next meal. Since most of them are school-leavers, they put a greater premium on the contribution of a child to family income rather than sending him to school. The chances of these children could be multiplied if they work with teachers who are competent and devoted to their mission. But alas, children are also disadvantaged in this regard. The World Bank Report informs that teachers themselves confront similar difficulties. “They lack the skills or motivation to be effective”, the report says. But Fr. Ben Nebres says that these inadequacies can be overcome “if only they have great principals.” His study says that only two factors differentiate a good school from a bad one: a good principal and a supportive community. But, these two factors are absent in the school system. The World Bank reported found low management skills in schools and weak community engagement. The lack of transparency leads to poor accountability which eventually means no community oversight and sporadic community support. And lastly, the school system is not spared from politics. We see the fangs of politics in the choice of appointments, promotion, raising revenues for education, allocation of expenditures, and in project implementation.
The Report says there is hope citing countries like Shanghai (China), Vietnam and Korea that have grasped the education problem by the horn. The path to success is clear:
- Measure and track learning to guide action.
- Use evidence to guide practice; and
- Align actors to make the whole system work for learning
Big words, indeed. But we do not have to look far. We have our own success stories of how learning can be improved with better governance. Then Mayor Jesse Robredo showed how Local School Boards can take the leadership in education, a function that has not been devolved. Then Governor Miguel Dominguez showed how to generate innovative and local solutions with little dependence on the central government. Mayor Rex Gatchalian shows how learning can be managed efficiently by an Education-Mayor. There are many, many more local government leaders whose stories need to be written. They do their best to make Matthew and Motmot live in the same world.