Liberation through education
(The Philippine Star) Updated December 30, 2009 12:00 AM
There is reason to celebrate the memory of national hero Jose Rizal today. This year education took center stage in national life after a teacher received international recognition as a “hero” for his novel way of bringing education to the poorest of the poor. Efren Peñaflorida, CNN “Hero of the Year,” struggled out of poverty and became a teacher to help others less privileged like him.
Rizal would have approved. The inspiration for many Filipino rebels against Spain famously refused to endorse an armed uprising, instead advocating liberation for the masses through education. Well-traveled and educated in Europe, Rizal knew the value of a good education and wanted it for his compatriots. He was an early advocate of non-violent change, but the Spanish colonizers saw him merely as a threat and executed him 113 years ago today, triggering the Philippine revolution.
The commemoration of Rizal’s death, and the honors heaped on Peñaflorida, should trigger another revolution, this time in education. His “kariton” or pushcart classrooms are being replicated to reach poorly served communities nationwide. The informal, mobile setting greatly reduces the costs of sending a child to school. Those costs are among the biggest reasons for the high national dropout rate despite the fact that basic education is free and mandatory.
In addition to improving universal access to education, the government should complement private initiative with efforts to improve the quality of Philippine education. This includes training more top-quality teachers and upgrading the quality of textbooks, a number of which continue to be riddled with factual and grammatical errors, as Antonio Calipjo-Go will attest.
Peñaflorida led the way in innovation. There must be other innovative ways of expanding education facilities. The country continues to suffer from an acute lack of classrooms, computers, textbooks and other basic school supplies. Teachers, overworked and underpaid, complained of delays in the release of their Christmas bonus this year. A commitment to improving the quality of education would be a fitting way of remembering Jose Rizal.