Reality television contestants last week became notorious because of their hilarious – actually, tragic – response to a quiz on Philippine history.
In a segment of Pinoy Big Brother Teens, the contestants were asked how the priests Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos and Jacinto Zamora were collectively known. But instead of “GomBurZa,” the youngsters guessed: “MaJoHa.”
The quizmaster asked again what the nickname of national hero Jose Rizal was. Instead of Pepe, the contestants said: “J. Rizal.”
And when asked what the longest bridge in the country was, they did not say San Juanico Bridge. Their answer: SLEX.
The episode remains talked about, not for its entertainment value but for the ugly truth it seems to reveal– that younger Filipinos are so ill-taught in history and that our education system is in shambles.
Conversations on the glaring errors in DepEd textbooks and modules soon followed.
The episode also brought back a World Bank study that found the Philippines was 90 percent learning poor as of August last year. Learning poverty is defined as the share of 10-year-olds who cannot read nor understand a simple story.
The blended online and modular delivery of education, forced upon us by the pandemic, was also blamed for this sloppy performance.
It is, of course, quite a stretch to think that two unenlightened contestants at a reality show could represent an entire generation of Philippine students. Perhaps they were nervous. Perhaps they were the type who did not pay attention in school. Perhaps they were not the brightest in their class.
Nonetheless, the anecdotal evidence is there, as are the findings of reputable institutions like the World Bank.
To which, then, can we assign blame for the apparent breakdown of the youth’s knowledge of history? To their short attention spans, their preference for visual, instead of textual, stimulation, or their belief that they do not have to memorize anything because everything can be searched online, anyway?
Do we blame their parents, who are too detached, too liberal, or too protective of their kids’ self-esteem? Teachers who may not be up to their jobs or too lazy to take extra steps to make the children learn? The government for not investing enough in education?
Or is it the culture of a lack of verification, of believing something just because it is available and easy to absorb whether or not it is accurate?
The reasons are bound to be many, but one thing is clear: The next administration must acknowledge, beyond sweeping statements, that education grounded on facts and history should be a priority. We need to raise a generation of Filipinos who revere the truth and eschew frivolity. We have to have young people who question the decisions of their elders, not out of disrespect but out of a desire to do better.
This must not be a reason to look down on the children who do not know any better. This should be a wake up call to those in a position to create a better, more conducive learning environment – but who have chosen not to, just because they personally do not value education.