"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Problems Beyond Education

A critical attitude is important. The problems the Philippines faces as a nation are challenging. To sugarcoat the current conditions is a denial one cannot afford at these times. And the problems extend far beyond education.

Flor Lacanilao recently shared the following in a forum of Philippine scientists:

...Persistent problems include poverty, fast population growth, poor basic education, resource overexploitation, environment degradation, graft and corruption, and common crimes.  
I have explained that those problems are interrelated, forming vicious circles of cause-and-effect. For example, poverty is partly due to corruption; corruption, partly due to poverty. The same relation exits between poverty and overpopulation; and between overpopulation and poor basic education. The interrelated vicious circles constitute a complex national problem, which every past administration had tried to solve but failed. (See "Only science can solve poverty," Philippine Daily Inquirer or PDI, 6/21/2007.) 
In 2010, at the start of his term, I posted at online science forums a reminder, calling the attention of President Aquino -- that corruption is not the main cause of poverty. And that stopping corruption will not end poverty. It was then time to educate the public -- for the President to address the true causes of national problems. He should at least be able in 6 years to put in place the established essentials of sustainable growth. 
In that commentary, I also said, "Studies abroad and our experience tell us that corruption and poverty form a vicious circle. Whereas honest leadership had reduced corruption and at least, perceived reduced poverty -- as was reminiscent of the time of President Magsaysay and President Cory -- we saw corruption and poverty mushroom again.” 
Our basic education problems are being similarly addressed.  It has become worse because their solution lies also elsewhere. Many studies, including those of Carl Wieman, Nobel laureate in physics, have shown that it is doubtful to make progress at the primary and secondary levels until a higher standard of science learning is set at higher education.  This and other reasons show why DepEd's K to 12 program is headed for failure (more in  "K+12 most likely to fail,"  PDI, 2/17/2012). 
In these two examples of addressing problems -- poverty and basic education -- failure is easily predictable. But it takes properly trained and experienced natural and social scientists to make such assessment. Many international studies have shown this. Hence, putting such right people in charge, or directly involved, in reform initiatives is another basic prerequisite to successful programs. It is critical in improving higher education and science ("Democratic governance impedes academic reform," PDI, 3/14/2011). 
The right people are those who have made major contributions to their respective fields of endeavor, as indicated by properly published works and citations. Important are papers in journals and citations listed in Science Citation Index or Social Sciences Citation Index.  Such properly published authors have the necessary expertise to evaluate information correctly.
The lack of such expertise among the wrong people in charge explains why, even with the advice of respected natural and social scientists, the decisions of those in charge -- based largely on personal opinion and common sense -- often prevailed.  
With the mounting global threats -- from terrorism, infectious diseases, and disasters from changing climate -- President Aquino must seriously consider putting more right people in charge. How to choose the right people is described in "Energy crisis and climate change" (PDI, 4/26/2012).

These are indeed problems that go beyond education. However, though education is only a part of the entire picture, it holds an important place in preparing Filipinos for the challenges ahead. With the recent flooding in parts of Luzon brought by a tropical storm, photos of flooding in Metro Manila, for example, are seen on the internet.

Roxas Boulevard flooded due to storm surge from Manila Bay
Downloaded from  http://www.facebook.com/YouScoopGMA

One can browse through the comments posted on internet news sites and almost each post mentions the problem of solid waste. No doubt, large urban regions like Metro Manila deal with serious solid waste issues. But garbage is only tangential to the real issue at hand. If one looks at pictures after a tornado touchdown in the United States, a large amount of debris is part of the picture. When Japan was hit by a tsunami, the pictures are likewise filled with wreckage and rubbish. When barges hit scores of shanties in Tondo, of course, the site showed scattered materials and fragments from the houses that were destroyed. One could imagine what sort of things are stored inside those shanties and what materials were used to build them. The debris coming from shanties are not going to be pretty. And New Orleans photos were likewise not enticing after Katrina brought sea water into that city.

Garbage is truly a problem. There is no argument about that, but when storm surges brings floods into coastal areas, the situation is so much more than garbage. No disciplined solid waste management system can address the problem of coastal flooding due to increase in sea level and land subsidence. Groundwater overuse by a demanding urban population, settlements built in hazardous areas, increase in the amount of rainfall brought by climate change, and rise in sea level are the real factors behind coastal flooding. Basic education may not help mitigate these problems but it can, at least, inform the people. Flor Lacanilao, in a plenary lecture given at a CHED National Conference on Research in Higher Education in 2009, said, "There is hardly anything the Philippines can do to prevent climate change. But we can increase our chances of survival by reducing poverty through improvements in research and education." Education can likewise prepare the people. Basic education can help people understand better the situation so that better decisions can be made.

According to a study funded by the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature , Manila is the third most vulnerable city in Asia to climate change:

Downloaded from http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/mega_cities_report.pdf
"Sea-levels around Manila are also rising and an increase anywhere from 0.4 to 1.0 m by the end of century is expected, partially due to local subsidence and continued ground water extraction. This degree of change could displace over 2.5 million people and inundate over 5,000 ha of the Manila Bay coastal area. These risks will be further intensified if storm surges associated with intense storm activity increase. Coastal erosion is also increasing and is exacerbated by the increase in storms, beach sand mining, and destruction of coral reefs, mangroves and sand dunes."

Basic education may not solve climate change, but it can help change people's risk perception. The photo below shows the need for this change. To some, this maybe obvious, but the situation below is no different from building houses within high risk or danger zones.

Downloaded from  http://www.facebook.com/YouScoopGMA
Changing risk perception so that people clearly understand the situation is a good place to start and in this area, basic education can help. Basic education can lay out the facts and this alone is a good starting point.

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