On Literacy Curbing the Growth of Population

On Literacy Curbing the Growth of Population

International Literacy Day Speech for the Rotary Club of Makati 3830

Representative Kaka J. Bag-ao, AKBAYAN Partylist

September 8, 2010

Delivered at A-Venue Mall, Makati City

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat, ako si Kaka Bag-ao, ang bagong representative ng Akbayan sa Kongreso.

I am deeply honored to be invited to your celebration of the International Literacy Day and I wish to congratulate you for the successful opening of your exhibit. The issue of education is close to our hearts, an issue that we in Akbayan view as a key towards empowerment and national rebirth.  The power to determine one’s fate, be it at the level of personal life choices or as a matter of national direction, lies on our capacity to make informed decisions, a condition that only education and literacy can provide.

In many instances, better education and good literacy metrics mean better lives. It is a known trend, for instance, that education helps in managing population growth. Girls who go through elementary and secondary education are presented with better opportunities, and are literally given something to do such that reproduction or pregnancy is delayed. Such is true in many countries.

In the Philippines, our education and literacy figures have been improving and have been consistently high in general. Adult literacy rate is at 93% (2008, UNICEF), and primary enrolment rate is around 90% (2007, UNICEF) and the secondary enrolment rate is 80% (2007, UNICEF). However, this has not translated into a more manageable population growth rate, or better living conditions for Filipinos.

In the next decade, our population is expected to reach 100 million. This is hardly sustainable, given that the  5% average annual economic growth is not trickling to the impoverished majority and that public spending has not increased substantially. Spending for social services, or for education and health in particular, has only increased <span>nominally</span> since the time of the Estrada administration. In real terms, public spending on education and healthcare has remained the same, and has therefore been insufficient to address increasing population growth. (Note: growth rate in 2007 and 2010 are higher than 5%, but these are election years. Growth was spurred by election spending.)

What our ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ education and literacy metrics fails to measure is the landscape of our education system in terms of quality. We have measured quality education in terms solely of job generation, and has allowed the market to limit the role of education. We have allowed nursing schools to mushroom simply because it is the sector that generates employment abroad, at the expense of losing a more strategic perspective on which direction we should lead the country. We forgot that education is about empowerment – to broaden our worldview, to give our youth the capacity to imagine, to teach the importance of deep convictions. Where the Philippines should be in the next decade or a century hence should not be determined by the availability of jobs, but by the vastness of our imagination and by our commitment to our collective values – ang pagiging marangal, ang pagkakaroon ng marangal na buhay at bansa.

Take, for instance, the issue of sex education in schools. As one of the principal authors of the RH bill, I am in favor of age-appropriate sex education. The debate on sex ed has centered on faith-based moral questions, when in truth, the issue is about empowering children and adolescents. Ignorance is an evil that has forced many teenagers to resort to abortion because of unwanted pregnancy. Ignorance and the stigma we attach to sex have silenced many children who have experienced sexual abuse and harassment. Giving them education about sex and how they can protect themselves from abuse or diseases is the real moral right.

The task of shifting the perspective on the value of education doesn’t rest on the government alone. We need the civil society to help pressure the State and to change the consciousness of the broader public on how education should truly emancipate. It is in this light that I am truly grateful for the initiatives taken by your Rotary Club in raising awareness and in engaging the public in this issue. Mabuhay ang Rotary, at maraming salamat!

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