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Day 1: Setting the scene
We are privileged. We all lead privileged lives. We had the chances and opportunities to learn, to grow, and to do almost anything we wanted in life. These were given to us from birth, where for most of us we had a loving home with the resources to give us a good education, the time to allow us to have a childhood rather than work, and we did nothing to deserve that…
We do not deserve our lifestyles any more than the billions born in poverty deserved their fate, any more or any less than any other person born in our generation. But we got lucky. It’s not our fault how the world was when we came into it, it’s not our fault we got the opportunities and other children did not. But you hear so many people complain about how they don’t have this or that, they’re frustrated and angry when their iPhone charger breaks, or, heaven forbid, the wifi itself, and now #FirstWorldProblems is born. They’re people who complain about most things and have a negative outlook on life, despite almost all of us reading this being in the top 15% of the wealthiest people in the world.
In psychological terms, it’s because we adapt to our surroundings. What we see, what we hear of the world, becomes our norm. So when TV shows only focus on a middle class life, we believe that is the reality of the world. Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage is a fascinating read on this subject and how we can retrain our brain from scanning for the negative to scanning for the positive.
But for Education Week, I say all this not because we should feel guilty about it, but so we can enjoy and appreciate these chances and opportunities. By appreciating what we have in the context of what’s happening around the world, we can better appreciate those chances and make the best of them. How the world was when we were born into it may not be our fault, our responsibility, but how it is now that we’re in it is. We all have the power to change something, change someone, and it is our choice in whether we do that or not. That, is our privilege.
Day 2: Educating Girls Saves Lives
As we saw the previous day, in the Philippines there are 5.5 million children who are working, more than half of whom are in ‘hazardous conditions’ as defined by the International Labour Organization. This number may be even higher as so many children in slums are not included in official population counts, and are often not included in such statistics. The basic idea, though, is that all children deserve a good start in life. Not only so they can work towards the skills and qualifications necessary to get a better job, but so they can have a childhood and decide for themselves what they really want to do. Neither should education be treated as the training to get a job, you may as well just start kids in apprenticeships if that were the case. Education is supposed to be so much more than that, school can be so much more than that. There’s a fantastic TED talk by Ken Robinson on ‘How Skills are Killing Creativity’. Basically his premise is that in the UK the universal education system began as a way to train children to work in factories – hence the uniforms, the authority, the strict schedules, and everything else which teaches conformity and obedience to authority rather than anything truly creative. Governments have often used education as such, a political tool rather than something inherently worthy of pursuit.
Yet when we invest properly, we see that we actually have so much power. Check out this cute video also on how educating girls at 12 years old can have such effects and completely change the future of her family.
That doesn’t mean that you just forget about boys, it’s a case of educating both. In economic terms you’d call it marginal utility – you get most benefit from making more of what you have the least of, and those returns diminish over continued investment meaning other areas become more efficient. To give an analogy, if you had a bunch of food and one person was starving and another was healthy, then of course there would be greater benefit in providing more for the starving person. While education for boys needs improvements, many girls cannot even attend school in the first place. The priority is making sure everyone has access, and access to quality education not just school for the sake of it.
One thing the Philippines does well, though, is gender equality. Perhaps because it has roots in a more Matriarchal society before colonization, but whatever the reason the Philippines is 5th globally and top in Asia for gender equality. Only four Scandinavian countries (Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden) can claim better gender equality, but Scandinavian countries always win social surveys like this, in education and healthcare too, so it’s sort of cheating to be Scandinavian in a survey about something socially positive. It may be better to say, then, that aside from Scandinavia, who as we agreed just then are cheating by being Scandinavian and awesome, the Philippines is the leading country in the world for gender equality. It may at first seem like saying that if you take out the countries who would beat England in the World Cup then England will win the World Cup, but to be serious it’s an impressive achievement for a country of the relative power of the Philippines. That’s a very positive thing that can be built on to ensure access for everyone. The Philippines may not discriminate so much based on gender, but certainly there is huge discrimination based on class. Yet the greatest returns will come from investing in the poorest among us (aside from the whole morality of it).
Day 3: Good Education develops the Economy
There is a lot of academic research on this and it must be stated that it is quality education that develops the economy not just any kind of education. A lot of countries have invested in education, focussed on typical goals of universal Primary and Secondary education, looked to the averages, and developed the same rote based teaching methodology.
That you won’t get much out of that is just common sense. You can invest billions of pesos in making sure everyone gets a Primary school education, but if the actual teaching is poor and the kids don’t learn anything then of course it’s useless. In Payatas, for example, we’ve seen kids graduate from one grade to the next, still unable to write their own name and count to ten, let alone what the curriculum says they should be able to do.
However as an example of how important education is, the Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore) all developed exceptionally well in the last 50 years to become developed nations. Yet 50 years ago the Philippines had an economy bigger than them all combined. All four countries developed their economies largely through investing in human capital, i.e. huge investments in education and healthcare, building a skilled and healthy workforce to drive the economy. Sure the Philippines had colonial masters and more international pressure holding them back. It’s still true today that the Philippines pays more in debt service and interest than in Education and Health combined. However rather than make excuses, there are now the possibilities to actually do it. Investing in the people is the first step… it is the people who will innovate, create, find the solutions to the problems we’re talking about and could make sure education in the Philippines improves rapidly over the next decade. The potential is there… and as the PDAF scandal shows, better management and there would be enough funding too.
Day 4: How Many Einsteins Have we Missed?
Education really is the start. Some people say the Philippines has a much bigger population so needs to control that. But South Korea and the Philippines had a similar population 50 years ago (25M and 26M respectively). Better education leads to lower population growth rates, as well as developing sustained economic growth, better health, technological innovation, everything.
There are about 1 million geniuses in the Philippines who we are not allowing to help us. Roughly 2% of the overall population have a genius IQ. With 44% of the urban population living in slums in the Philippines that means there are roughly 44 million people there, and therefore there are 880,000 people with genius IQs living in slums. Adding in other areas of poverty and we’re looking at a minimum of 1 million people of high intelligence, who simply do not get the opportunity to reach their potential. Certainly IQ is not the only measurement of intelligence, or even the best, but it shows a rough idea of how many people we’re really missing out on: because we don’t invest in them they don’t reach their potential, and we miss out on the inventions, discoveries, and the solutions they would have provided for the rest of us.
Investing in education is not just investing in that child and seeing them succeed, it sees everyone succeed. When a scientist creates a vaccine it benefits everyone, when a businessman creates a product better than the previous model it benefits everyone, when qualified teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, architects, any job that is beneficial for society are trained, we all benefit. So millions of people in poverty are not the problem, the population is not the problem, they are the solution. Invest in them, invest in quality education, and we can gain exactly what Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan gained when they started out in an even worse position than the Philippines 50 years ago.
Day 5: Sponsor a Child
So how can we invest? Most people aren’t creating the government budgets or running schools across the country after all. But there is huge potential all round us. At the Fairplay for All Foundation we’ve expanded our education sponsorship program and now support 60 kids.
And you can help support these students by getting involved and sponsoring a child. For P1,000/month you can provide everything a child needs to go to school, do their homework, and make sure they have enough food to concentrate. If you’re like our other kind and generous supporters then email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. In some cases it can literally save a life. For everyone else, it builds one that would have been impossible otherwise.
Day 6: Sponsor a Project
Children who have been out of school for so long would drop out soon after being put back into formal education. At best they would struggle with the change. That’s where our drop-in centre comes in as a place the kids get used to an academic environment in a more fun and informal setting. The success of the program has come from this process, and so when it’s test time at their new school, the kids come back beaming with smiles and proud of being in the top ten of their class (a real achievement considering as classes usually range from 50 to 100 students).
Being in the top 20% or even higher up is a real accomplishment for kids who previously spent most of their time scavenging for trash, washing plastic, or working in other ways to support their family. Naturally not all of the kids are doing so well. We support some kids who aren’t as academic but deserve the chance nonetheless. With your support, we can expand that and provide after-school classes and extra support for these kids too.
The two boys on the left, for example, both work as jumper boys, scaling trucks as they drive into Payatas to pick out trash they can sell at junkshops later on. The younger boy there once found a strip of bullets and, being 7 years old, didn’t know what they were. As you have to flatten metal out, so he hammered the strip of bullets. One exploded and ricocheted into his older brother’s leg, fortunately only his leg, and his elder brother is still walking round with shrapnel in his leg because we have to wait for it to poke through the skin of it’s own accord according to the doctors we took him to. So aside from the potential of the kids, the safe environment of the project is so important. Now, these boys are students.
Day 7: Do something