8 September 2016
Keynote Message at the National Education Summit, Synergeia Foundation and Partners, Philippine International Convention Center (PICC)
Early last year, in one of my speeches, I shared a story about a classroom in the third district of Camarines Sur, with 38 students and only nine chairs. I remember exactly how I felt when I saw the sheet of Manila paper on the wall that schedules who gets to sit on a chair on which day.
No child should ever have to sit on the cold floor while trying to learn. No child should have to learn math while their stomach hurts from lack of food. Teachers shouldn’t have to make that difficult choice, of choosing only 9 among the 38. I am very sure preparing that schedule broke their hearts.
I’ve shared that story so many times since then, and the heartwarming thing is that when we came back, they couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw us carrying chairs donated by so many different organizations and individuals who responded to that story.
We filled that classroom with enough chairs for the children to sit on, as well as the other classrooms in that school. It came to a point that the school did not know what to do with the chairs that people kept donating.
How I wish solving the obstacles in improving the state of public education is that easy. Unfortunately, our problems are so intractable and the tasks so great that it will take years for all of us to fix them.
What gives me hope is the synergy that’s created when people are willing to work together. When reform-minded teachers, administrators, mayors, governors, local school board members, other local government officials, and the national government come together to break down barriers to meaningful change, the results are so much greater than the sum of all our efforts. It’s almost like magic.
I know this is why Jesse was so passionate about his work in Synergeia when he was still alive. He was tireless in going to places like Jolo and Tawi-Tawi and to many far-flung elementary schools.
He once said that he would go where Ma’am Nene couldn’t go. Parati niya po iyong sinasabi. ‘Yong hindi mo kayang puntahan, ako ang pupunta. Well sasabihin ko kay Ma’am huwag muna susunod sa langit kasi marami pang nangangailangan sa iyo. Marami pang nangangailangan ng school children at at mayor sa iyo.
I was telling you that I am sure that Jesse would not have wanted Ma’am Nene to go with him to heaven yet, because so many school children and mayors, all of you still who her and still need Synergeia Foundation to guide them in the path of providing good quality education for our children.
Since the start of this project with Ford Foundation here in Manila, Jesse was already part of this reform, of course together with Father Ben and Ma’am Nene. He stayed because he was strengthened by the sight of each trained administrator, or each inspired teacher, or each Mayor converted to the Synergeia way of empowering Local School Boards.
Each one of you holds a key to the enlightenment of a child’s mind. Each key is important; each task significant; each child worthy of our countless and tireless efforts. That’s because once a child is educated, there is a high likelihood he will pull himself up from poverty.
And when he does, he is less likely to sell his vote, he’s less likely to part with his integrity, his dignity nor his freedom—political or economic. If we believe that we are what society becomes, then the solution to our country’s greatness is education, which in essence is the emancipation of each Filipino child’s mind from ignorance.
Education is one of the Office of the Vice-President’s carefully chosen five-point agenda in alleviating poverty in the country. Our problems with hard infrastructure will always be with us. Being a country with one of the fastest population growth rate in the world. Apart from the school buildings, sanitation, science laboratories, chairs, and textbooks that we need every year, there are two other issues among many other issues, in our public education system is currently facing that I’d like to discuss with you today.
One, the need to link senior high school graduates with relevant industries and, two, the worrying trend of severe stunting among Filipino children.
This year, 2016, is a transition year under the K-12 system. We need to support the Department of Education in making this year as smooth and productive as possible. We can do that by providing senior high school students with sufficient information so that they can choose specialization tracks that will ensure productive employment or business opportunities after senior high school.
Local government units have a massive role to play in bridging industries with schools, so that students and their parents can make informed decisions. If we don’t do this now, it is highly likely that we will have a major mismatch between the supply and demand of skill sets in our cities and provinces.
This has been a perennial problem in our economy that we can solve right now, and the solution required is not really that difficult. In fact, some Mayors here, I was told, have been toying with formalizing ideas like these in relation to their TESDA training programs.
What we need to do is to apply the same strategy to our senior high school students. The vision is clear: we don’t want basket weavers if industries need welders or vice versa. We must create a synergy so that the supply and demand side for skills meet.
The issue on malnutrition and stunting is the more alarming one. According to a Save The Children report, the Philippines is one of the countries in the world that account for most of the global burden of malnutrition.
We have 3.6 million stunted children, causing us to rank 9th among countries with the highest number of stunting, and 10th among countries with the highest burden of wasting. This represents an increase in child malnutrition cases to 33.4% in 2015 from 30.3% in 2013.
So at present, there are 1.5 million Filipino children who go through a day without eating. And all these happened while we were experiencing economic growth rates that at some point in the past five years was the highest in the world.
There’s more. Since children who are stunted have poor physical and mental development, they are likely to become repeaters in school or drop out of school. Save the Children said, this can cost us P1.23 billion per year. Malnutrition can result in P166.5 billion worth of lost income, and P160 billion in lost productivity. Save The Children estimates that overall, we lose 3% of gross domestic product or P328 billion a year due to stunting and wasting.
The malnutrition problem is a multifaceted one that affects many other aspects of our people’s wellbeing. If it isn’t solved now, it will become a huge economic problem later.
This year, population experts said we have entered into a demographic sweet spot. That means majority of our population will reach working age, and this demographic structure is expected for the next 40 years.
This is the kind of demographic development that transformed South Korea and other Asian tigers into the economic superpowers that they are today. In other words: the Philippines is right at the cusp of a huge growth spurt that can truly galvanize our economy.
But remember that growth from our demographic sweet spot assumes that the majority of our population that will reach working age will be productive. Not stunted. Not physically limited. But healthy, smart, productive, and competitive.
So if we don’t do anything about the problem of malnutrition and stunting now, the demographic growth story can turn into a ticking time bomb. And if we are unable to achieve inclusive growth, our people will remain poor and hungry, and the cycle will goes on.
We can attack this problem in many ways. One strategy related to education is by using the Zero-Hunger model of Brazil. I was talking to the regional head of the World Food program outside. We are working on a hunger and food security model to be replicated in the Philippines.
The Brazil model attacked malnutrition by instituting feeding programs in public schools, but made sure the smallest and poorest farmers in the community are given the chance to supply food for the feeding programs. This way, you boost nutrition and the agriculture sector at the same time. This model was so successful that it erased Brazil from the World Hunger Map in 10 years. We have included learnings from the Brazil model in our National Food Security bill, which I filed during the 16th Congress.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that Synergeia’s mayors, you who fondly call, hindi ko po alam kung alam ninyo ito, ang tawag ni Jesse sa kanila noon, sa mga Synergeia mayors, Nene’s boys.
Ngayon marami nang girls kaya Nene’s boys and girls, can dissolve all these alarming trends very quickly. Reforms have a greater chance at success when local chief executives believe in them. Good local officials mean good communities. But of course, you know that.
My hope is that as you listen to the breakout sessions, I think you have one after this, in the next two days, you will be transformed, empowered, and inspired in ways you have never been before. So attend as many sessions in this summit as you can. Parang naaalala ko dati nagsasabi si Ma’am Nene, bawal mag-cutting classes, pati ang mga mayors bawal mag-cutting classes. Ang naaalala ko ito, my husband has been very active with Synergeia before, so I have heard him, I have seen him in many of these sessions.
Good education governance is good politics. Use your influence and use it now. You are the hope of 24.4 million children in our public schools. You are the hope of our nation.
Ito po, just as an aside, tapos na po ang aking lektura, Ma’am Nene was with us at the Office of the Vice President yesterday afternoon. We had a round table discussion with regards to finding ways to strategize how we can best operationalize our dream of pushing for better public education for our school children.
The Office of the Vice President has decided to focus on five key advocacy areas. One of them is public education, another is hunger and food security, also universal health care and its improvement etc. The session yesterday was very inspiring in the sense that so many groups and organizations who have been involved in advocating for good public education were represented and provided inputs which we will then on include in a comprehensive strategy to be doing this. I was also meeting some of the mayors, the mayors of Marawi is here I was meeting with him yesterday. I met with Mayor Rivera who was also here earlier this morning.
We’re excited to replicate good models in all these areas in the next few months. And we are just so glad that all of you are here. Alam po ninyo kapag naghahanap ako ng proactive local officials, kay Ma’am Nene ako lumalapit. Kasi si Ma’am Nene ‘yong merong listahan. Sino ba ‘yong mga mayors na bukas na bukas to think out of the box? So I’m very glad that so many of you came here this morning. Actually I was very surprised that this is such a big group. I was so used to having very small groups.
So when I was coming in, sabi ko kay Ma’am Nene, Ma’am Nene ang dami pala. Sabi nga niya oo nga maraming nag-attend ngayon, I think more than 700 of you this morning. That means we have that much amount of local officials who are interested in making a difference in the lives of all our public school children.
So maraming maraming salamat po sa inyo, for everything that you have been doing for our country.
Magandang umaga po sa inyong lahat.