"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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pork Barrel in Philippines Does Great Harm to Basic Education

Stealing public funds does harm to society. It destroys public trust. The government takes money from its citizens to support its social programs. These programs are often impossible if one simply relies on the generosity of private enterprises. In the United States, there is evidence that some of these programs do work and benefit the society as a whole. The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy has listed several intervention programs as "top-tier" or "near top-tier". Examples are:
  • Nurse-Family Partnership (A nurse home visitation program for low-income, pregnant women)
  • Child FIRST (A home visitation program for low-income families with young children at risk of emotional, behavioral, or developmental problems, or child maltreatment)
  • Success for All for Grades K-2 (A school-wide reform program, primarily for high-poverty elementary schools, with a strong emphasis on reading instruction)
  • Annual Book Fairs for High-Poverty Elementary Schools (Book fairs providing summer reading over three consecutive years, starting at the end of first or second grade)
  • Child Immunization Campaign With Incentives (Monthly immunization camps in poor Indian villages, combined with small incentives for parents to have their children immunized – e.g., $1 bag of lentils)
The above social programs depend so much on public funding. If instead of funding these programs, the United States allots pork barrel money to its lawmakers and the Office of the President in a manner that these politicians can choose which project to fund, difficulties as well as impropriety can easily arise. Even with honesty, the likelihood that a lawmaker in the Philippines is equipped with the required information to judge correctly whether a program deserves funding or not is really close to zero. Funding specific projects requires good studies. Identifying which social programs actually work is even a challenge in a developed country like the United States. 

The Philippines is likewise not endowed with unlimited public funds but poverty may come with some advantage when it forces the correct prioritization and decision to be made. On the other hand, poverty does exacerbate the ill effects of making the wrong choices or decisions. Poverty cannot tolerate wasteful spending but poverty should make obvious what interventions or social programs the government must take or make.
Above collection of photos copied from
Manny Olalia Quemuel's Facebook page
When the father of a poor family spends whatever little wage he makes into drinking, instead of clothing and feeding his children, such act will instantly receive condemnation from society. When a politician steals from public funds while the poor are denied of social services, it should be no different. Pork barrel in the Philippines is an ineffective way of addressing social programs. Worse, it is so susceptible to corruption and political patronage. Pork barrel therefore does great harm to social services like basic education.

In Diane Ravitch's Reign of Error, the sixth proposed solution is providing social services to poor children:
SOLUTION NO. 6 Provide the medical and social services that poor children need to keep up with their advantaged peers.
Basic education does not work by simply providing equal resources to all. There is an achievement gap brought about by poverty. Children in poor families usually do not receive the proper nutrition and medical attention they need. Children in poor families are less likely to engage in informal learning activities or trips with their parents. Children in poor families are less likely to have had books read to them by their parents. Children in poor families are more likely to have been exposed to emotional, physical and environment stress. Basic education must aspire for equity and not equality. Providing young children with the nutrition they need while in school is a program that should not require approval from a congressman. Such program attacks the problem at its core. Education can not be viewed as a solution to poverty. Instead, poverty must be viewed as a problem or hindrance in education. Medical and dental check-ups are also programs that can be incorporated in public schools. It is one advantage that poverty can provide. It does not require an "Einstein" to figure out what programs must be first priority. Yet, the obvious is often missed. 

When politicians steal from public funds that are meant to support social programs, we must place the photos of poor children in the Philippines right before our eyes. Hopefully, we will realize then the gravity of the crime these politicians are making. It is even actually worse than a father who goes drinking while his children are left without a meal. In the case of the father, at least, he presumably earned the money he used to buy his drinks.





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