Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 1)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)


Shortly before the May 14, 2007 election, I wrote an open letter to all Sibalenhon leaders on the topic of education. I intended to distribute the letter during the campaign as my modest contribution, first, to helping raise the quality of the election campaign by bringing to the fore issues that really matter in our lives, and second, to encourage all candidates to espouse education as part of their respective platforms.

Third, I wrote the letter to help educate our voters so they will demand from the candidates meaningful and valuable action and performance rather than money and material favors. It was, many of you will agree, a quixotic task given the prevalent culture in our politics where votes are freely exchanged as a commodity rather than as a mandate from the governed.

Finally, I sought to put in perspective a theme which is very close to my heart. Education is always a hot-button issue in our country and bringing it to the consciousness of the Sibalenhon is to me a personal duty.

Unfortunately, that paper, “An Education Agenda”, never got into circulation, even when my daughter Lara, who is in Grade Six, had already laid it out for mass production. The untimely and sudden death of a sister, plus the fact that I was away in Bicol during the rest of the summer, precluded all plans to visit Sibale and distribute the paper.

The invitation by the Concepcion National High School to deliver a keynote address to this Education Summit was an opportunity to revisit my thoughts on the subject. It has to be revised, of course, to capture the essence of this occasion, but the main points I have raised and discussed in “An Education Agenda” remain valid and relevant.

Thus, I would like to express my gratitude for this opportunity. Now, the paper finally has an audience.

You will note that I chose “Education Agenda” as the title of this paper. This is deliberate and with a purpose. I want the subject of education to become an agenda—not only during this Summit, but beyond—to make it visible. I believe education is one of the most important concerns that you—our leaders and movers and shakers—must face, confront, and do something about if you take seriously your prominent status in Sibalenhon society. I will spell out shortly my reasons for saying so.

The Knowledge Century

Our present era is characterized by revolutionary changes and challenges in almost every aspect of human survival, notably in the fields of commerce, communications, science, and technology. The fast pace of societal transformation—including the transformation of island communities like Sibale—brought about by these changes have swept us off our feet, threatening those who cannot respond and adapt to be left behind in abject ignorance and grinding poverty. As a people, we cannot anymore afford this lot amid the world’s growing prosperity.

Our present era has resulted in new modes and ways of doing things. The old ways are passé. New trends are unfolding before our very eyes. The future is pointing to the same direction of continuing changes and challenges.

Whereas the present is a battle for economic clout—which means that those who have the wealth, those who possess material resources, get ahead in life—the 21st century (our century, as African Nobel Prize laureate in literature Nadine Gordimer has written) is no longer a drama between those who have material possessions and those who have none.

The not-so-distant tomorrow is a skills-and-knowledge-based future. It will be a Knowledge Century and the competition will be between ideas, knowledge, and skills, and between technical competence and capability. The Knowledge Century is unraveling now. It is here.

And as it comes, survival and progress are fought along the terms and conditions of those who have the agility to use and harness newfound ideas, knowledge, and skills. In very simple but graphic terms, it is a battle between those who still use the abacus and those who fiddle with computers; between those who still believe in using semaphore to communicate and those who use ‘text’ and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) to deliver messages; a battle between those who still hoist the “yadag” and wait for “tiral” and those who ride airplanes and hydrofoil ships to get to their destinations.

This is the face of the future that our municipality confronts now. Change and innovation stare us in the face and the question is: Shall we blink? (To be continued)

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