Fighting ignorance and poverty through education

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TITA C. VALDERAMA

EDUCATION is the best weapon to fight poverty and ignorance, a schoolteacher told a forum that I attended last week. The teacher was reacting to a long narrative by an activist on the struggle of farmers to own land.

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The teacher argued that farmers stand to have a better future if they would learn other aspects of farming such as technological innovation, marketing and networking instead of protesting on the streets that often result in violence.

She pointed out that while farmers have the right to own the lands they till, landowners who worked hard to acquire their landholdings also have rights that must be respected.

The teacher noted that farmers in South Korea and Thailand, for instance, are not poor because they are educated.

It was a discussion titled “Susing Salita: Bungkalan,” a segment in a two-day seminar with the theme “Wikang Filipino: Daluyan ng Pambansang Pagkakakilanlan at Pagkakaisa” held at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Education auditorium in observance of Buwan ng Wika.

The resource person, Kerima Tariman-Acosta, clarified that she was talking about vast tracts of lands occupied by big landlords for years that should have long been distributed to farmers, not lands acquired by ordinary workers like teachers.

Acosta is a media liaison officer of an activist group called Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agricultura. Her topic was based on the book “Bungkalan: Manwal sa Organikong Pagsasaka” and delved into the farmers’ struggle to claim Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac and vast sugarlands in Negros. Bungkalan is a Filipino word for cultivation.

Her presentation was replete with words like pakikibaka, panginoong maylupa, imperyalismo, pyudal, kolonyalismo and others that we don’t use in daily conversations but often hear during protest rallies by militant groups.

She said farmers in South Korea and Thailand were not poor because these countries have genuine land reform, unlike in the Philippines where land reform remains to be lip service because the government leaders who were supposed to implement the program were themselves either big landowners or sympathetic to landowners.

To this, the teacher argued: “Patuloy na umaasa ang mahihirap sa paghihimagsik (dahil) nauudyukan ng mga lider. Bakit hindi sila turuan sa mapayapang paraan dahil lalong naa-aggravate ang problema kung puro pakikibaka at karahasan?” (The poor keep on struggling because they are being instigated by the leaders. Why not teach them peaceful means because the problem only gets worse if it’s all protests and violence?)

The brief exchange between the teacher and the activist lecturer showed a clear disconnect on their interpretation of democracy and democratic process in asserting one’s rights over the other.

While they both spoke in Filipino, the words they used echoed the contrasting perspectives they represented on how farmers’ lives could be improved.

South African leader Nelson Mandela once said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Indeed, education is the foundation of peace and prosperity. Education is a tool to break the cycle of poverty.

That is why the government has been allotting higher spending on education and keeping the cost of education affordable. Education is an investment.

I remember my father telling us when we were much younger that education is the only valuable gift he could give us. He toiled on his inherited farmland to provide for our education. He said he did not want us to experience the hardship he endured, working as a bus conductor and later on the farm that his parents left him. He had completed up to fourth grade only when the war broke out.

After my parents were gone, my siblings and I were comforted by the fact that we have made them happy. We may have accomplished more than what they expected from us because we spoke the same language on the same perspectives about the value of education. It was something we did not take for granted because of our common goal to succeed.

My parents were poor. We were born poor, but poverty did not deter us from getting an education.

With a growing population looking for jobs, education and skills training are key to keep in competition.

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