Nov 26, 2011

Education Beyond Borders

Several weeks after typhoon Ondoy devastated majority of Luzon, I volunteered for a psycho-social relief operations in a small town in Laguna. My cousin is a social worker and she asked me if I'm interested to join them since there will be European student volunteers coming with us. Wearing our UNICEF shirts, we rode the mobile school where we sat on plastic chairs fit for elementary students. The ride was long and uncomfortable, not to mention unstable because the chairs would sway whenever the driver made a sharp turn. Regardless of this, we still had fun – playing games that displayed the culture of our foreign guests.

It was their first week in the Philippines, but some of them had long been exposed to the environment of a developing country. Anikka recently came from South Africa where she also volunteered. Anja is a school teacher who decided that traveling in poor countries will expand her horizons. Apart from her, all of them are just newly grad high school students who chose to explore the world while helping the less fortunate at the same time. My cousin then told me that they receive a lot of help from foreign pre-college students. The pattern is almost similar. Compared to what we're used to here in the Philippines where after finishing high school, a student directly enters college, some Europeans opt for the real learning outside the safety of the four corners and into the unknown – the real world of poverty, disease and death.

Maybe the reason why this pattern isn't much present in the country is because even before our high school students can give back, they need to have something to give in the first place. Maybe unless there's that sense of overflowing blessings, it might be inconceivable for them to help beyond its boundaries. Of course, it's only practical.

But how about those schools whose tuition fee go as high as a hundred thousand pesos per year? The opposite actually happens. Instead of having that sense of wanting to give back, they are shielded from the realities of poverty, sheltered from what really happens outside their chauffeured cars and guarded gates.

How many percent are our students learning in the classrooms which they can apply to their daily lives? 60%? 30%? I've asked the European student volunteers and they told me that they learned more from their traveling than the whole time they spent inside school. The world isn't confined in books or lectures. They only provide a glimpse of how beautifully complicated our world really is. Our educational system can be considered severely flawed because no matter how high students pay tuition fees or regardless of how prestigious a school is, if the student doesn't want to take the chance of exposing himself to the world, then his education will remain limited.

Maybe the measure of how much a person has been educated after all is how much he has given back – not only his contribution to our economy, science or the academe, but to the welfare of the community he is surrounded by.

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