“Teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress.”
In my Christmas Day column last Saturday, I introduced Pope Francis’ message entitled “Dialogue between generations, education and work: tools for building lasting peace” given during the 55th World Peace Day, last 8 December 2021 from the Vatican. To achieve peace, the Holy Father proposed three paths, namely, first, dialogue between generations or intergenerational dialogue as the basis for the realization of shared projects which we already discussed in the first part of this series; second, education as a factor of freedom, responsibility and development. And finally, labor as a means for the full realization of human dignity. This can be achieved, according to the Holy Father, if “all can work together to build a more peaceful world, starting from the hearts of individuals and relationships in the family, then within society and with the environment, and all the way up to relationships between peoples and nations.
Francis has observed that “in recent years, there has been a significant reduction worldwide in funding for education and training; these have been seen more as expenditures than investments.” Even in the Philippines, this phenomenon is noticeable. Education has taken the backseat in the hierarchy of priorities such that the proposed budget for education is not commensurate with what is necessary in order to maintain high quality education. As a side note, a 2018 study found that a sample number of 15-year-old Filipino students ranked last in reading comprehension out of 79 countries. They also ranked 78th in science and math. The implication is that a lot of Filipinos can’t read or do simple math. It goes without saying that an uninformed citizenry cannot make informed choices and exercise good judgment. Ignorance, due to poor learning or lack thereof, breeds bigotry, discrimination and misplaced hatred or anger towards those who, because of misconception or clouded judgment, do not conform to their perception of reality, however misplaced. In the words of Francis, “they (education and teaching) are the primary means of promoting integral human development; they make individuals more free and responsible, and they are essential for the defence and promotion of peace.” In a word, teaching and education are the foundations of a cohesive civil society capable of generating hope, prosperity and progress.
As the Holy Father pointed out, military expenditures have increased beyond the levels at the end of the Cold War and they seem certain to grow exorbitantly.” He then suggests for “governments develop economic policies aimed at inverting the proportion of public funds spent on education and on weaponry.” Indeed, never before since the end of the Cold War has the world inched nearer to a worldwide conflict than the present era. The billions spent for armaments could have been better allotted for the development of peoples and nations, freeing up financial resources better used for health care, schools, infrastructure, care of the land and so forth. ‘
At this point, I wish to emphasize that education and teaching are most important in dealing with one of the greatest existential threats of our time, and that is climate change. Through education, people must learn how to care for mother earth and take heed of its dire warnings in terms of hitherto climactic oddities which we are now experiencing with increasing frequency. Most recently, Supertyphoon Rai or what we locally call typhoon Odette unleashed its full fury in many parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, leaving so much destruction in its wake.
The Holy Father also expressed hope that “investment in education will also be accompanied by greater efforts to promote the culture of care, which, in the face of social divisions and unresponsive institutions, could become a common language working to break down barriers and build bridges.” According to the Holy Father, it is of utmost necessity, “to forge a new cultural paradigm through “a global pact on education for and with future generations, one that commits families, communities, schools, universities, institutions, religions, governments and the entire human family to the training of mature men and women”. A compact that can promote education in integral ecology, according to a cultural model of peace, development and sustainability centered on fraternity and the covenant between human beings and the environment, is what we need.
In other words, through constructive dialogue and a better understanding, through education, of the problems that confront us, we will be able to social bridge barriers, mend fences and resolve problems/conflicts that can still make genuine peace a reality.
On a personal note, the work I am most proud in this past year, 2022, was my engagement with the Lumad Bakwit Schools in Quezon City, Cebu City, and Davao. The administrators and the teachers of these schools, as well as many of its students and parents, were under constant attack by fascists in and outside government throughout the year but they withstood their ground. In that process, they have become good friends, fellow travelers in the work to change the country and this world for the better. Their courage, commitment, and inner strength has inspired me and I look forward to working with them to rebuild the community schools in their rightful places.
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