Ano ang Pilipinas na ating adhika? We keep talking about schools and teachers and principals, especially during graduation time, questioning the goals of education and complaining about the perennial lack of good teachers and classrooms, but we have to talk first about our society and ourselves. Schools are reflections of our society since we can choose what we teach our children.
Schools operate under assumptions about society and education that influence their understanding of educational aims, methods of instruction, and the content of the curriculum. If they come from dysfunctional families, it is next to impossible to teach children good values. If high government officials are often accused of dipping their fingers into public funds, it would matter little for teachers to teach their students that honesty is the best policy. If hardened criminals and drug lords live a life of luxury inside the national penitentiary, there is no use telling young people that crime does not pay. If students are hungry, it is difficult to teach them anything.
What is taught in the classroom reflects who we are as a people. We cannot change the educational system without changing our society because we cannot separate social assumptions from the way children are taught. A relationship exists between our society’s beliefs about knowledge and knowing, how we teach our students to know, and what kind of ethical behavior we should prefer them to espouse after they graduate.
“This Sacred Synod likewise declares that children and young people have a right to be motivated to appraise moral values with a right conscience, to embrace them with a personal adherence, together with a deeper knowledge and love of God.” This is what the Second Vatican Council declared in Gravissimum Educationis regarding the right to education and the importance of teaching them moral values. The Church is concerned, not just about the kind of education given to children and young people, but the kind of society they are being raised in.
Schooling is a process with profound implications for the social, cultural, political and economic dimensions of life. Learning flows out of the experiences and activities of a person in interaction with society and the world. We first have to figure out what kind of society we really want: a Filipino society populated by responsible persons who thrive on interdependence and community, or a nation of narcissistic consumers unwilling to take full responsibility for their actions in a culture of greed who feel dependent on products, services, and corrupt authority figures.
The school is an institution connected to and relating to the society of which it is a part. It is the ideas and beliefs of society that gives its members a sense of belonging, or identity. It holds them together, and provides their agenda for action. A dysfunctional society will result in a dysfunctional educational system which will produce dysfunctional citizens.
Schools and our future
What is happening in our schools today will determine the fate of our society tomorrow. Educational systems are mostly about replicating and perpetuating a social order constructed within horizons of meaning, habit and practice, a specific range of historical conditions, and discursive boundaries. Schools are communal institutions that embody ideological, political and economic interests. Educators should be interested not just in how the individual student’s mind works, but how individual minds in society work together to create an aggregate outcome.
We have to look at the educational system as a whole, in its proper context, and inquire into the configurations of relationships which structure the whole system. And then we should take a long, hard look at Philippine society as a self-organizing whole in which the educational system converges with its cultural, economic and political features.
How do we promote among young people the ethical commitments that make it possible to have a better society? How can the educational system teach an integral vision of the human being with the right values?
A 2014 study by Julio Teehankee, Dean at De La Salle University, showed that 178 family dynasties rule 73 of the 80 provinces of the Philippines. Thus, the people elected to government positions do not represent the people but their families. This ruling class is determined to use their wealth and political clout to maintain their privileged position through a corrupt system where many can get away with stealing billions from government coffers.
A 2012 study by the World Bank showed that 25.2% of Filipinos are living below the poverty line of $1.25 a day. In this culture of poverty, environmental destruction runs rampant and rebellions are brewing. The marginalization of the majority of members of society means the best, brightest and most creative have been shut out of the process of building the nation for the 21st Century. Educators cannot ignore the impending catastrophe this state of affairs will wreak on the nation.
The dominant culture will always try to produce knowledge consistent with its own interests. Is our educational system perpetuating an unjust society described by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium: “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”? Are our schools only compounding the advantages of the upper class, since the children of the rich come better prepared to school and more able to pay for better education?
The set of meanings and values that young people today are learning, in homes, in churches, in schools, from media and their peer groups, will have a long-term and fundamental bearing on the way Filipino society will face the future. Their meanings and values will eventually redefine who and what the Filipino is. Educators have to integrate their teaching with the needs and interests of their students to nurture a flexible way of thinking that could be applied to solving the problems that plague Filipino society.
What kind of society do we want?
We first have to ask: What kind of society do we want? What kind of education is most likely to bring about that kind of society? What kind of curriculum will most likely produce that kind of education? And only then do we set about making that kind of curriculum. We have to understand first why we learn, how we learn, what we should learn and how to implement all that we learn in our communities and society before designing a new curriculum that matches society’s needs, revamping class design to improve interaction and collaboration among students, and re-imagining a teacher’s role in classrooms of the future.
Schools are among the important ways in which a society’s beliefs, values and rules of conduct are passed on from one generation to another. Learning must be a way of becoming – an ongoing set of attitudes and actions by individuals and groups they employ to try to keep abreast of the surprising, chaotic, recurring events in history. We need a shared framework about what Filipinos as human beings are “for” and how we might act and what we should strive for or resist. We need to look back at our past in trying to figure out what kind of society we really want. Who are we as a people?
For the longest time, educators have struggled with the question of how to change the educational system to serve the needs of Filipino society. How do we transform teacher preparation programs, curriculum design, textbooks, parent expectations and relationships with schools, and student expectations about learning in such a way as to benefit society?
Karunungan (wisdom) is needed here with its moral component – wisdom as the application of information worth remembering and knowledge relevant to understanding not only about how our society works, but also how it should work. And that requires a moral framework of what should and should not matter, as well as an ideal of the human being at its highest potentiality. Ethics or moral wisdom helps us tell the difference between the right direction and the wrong direction in building a just and peaceful society in a world that is changing fast through globalization – Nasa mundo ang utak, sa Pilipinas nakatapak.
We need to redefine today what it means to be human and why we are in this evolving universe. This new definition should frame our educational aims and policies. The transformation of the education system has to be rooted in the values and poli tics of Filipino society in the context of a dynamic cosmos. Piecemeal approaches will not do. A renewal of education shall have to draw from, as well as contribute, to a larger exercise in national renewal.
Paradigm shifts in educational philosophy
Human beings dwell in a dynamic universe, where everything evolves and converges. As organisms become more complex and more conscious, they also become more integrally whole and better connected. Inhabiting this evolving cosmos, human beings are continually evolving too. Enhancing the quality of life and the ecosystem on which life depends is the primary goal of education in the light of the innate human yearning for wholeness and rootedness in a convergent cosmos.
What would the effects of the unfolding of the new vision of the cosmos be for the set of meanings and values that inform the life of the Filipino people?
This new understanding of reality should be the context of the needed transformation of Filipino society. It should enrich, nourish and challenge us to become more fully what we can be, contribute to the vision of who we are and what we are becoming, and help other members of society to become truly what they are meant to be. The human project is never finished and each person needs to be empowered to undertake their own self-determined project in the light of a dynamic universe.
In an evolving cosmos, the classroom should be a place where vision and reality collide. Reality should have primacy over ideology. Schools must be institutions for creating a social order consonant with the realities of the world, places for possibilities of human flourishing. The task of the educational system is to help members of society draw on their particular resources and deep insight in order to modify their behavior, and make intelligent moral choices so that the presence of the human race on earth will once more be life-giving.
The only way to really transform the educational system is to change the fundamental conditions of economics and politics. It also means to change the system of meaning and values that inform Filipino society, in order to dignify and empower the totality of what each Filipino can become.
Fr. Benigno P. Beltran, SVD, heads the Sandiwaan Center for Learning, based in Smokey Mountain, Tondo, Manila, a technology-based non-formal education provider for out-of-school youth.