[OPINION] The (mis)education of Filipinos in the year of disasters

In his landmark essay, “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” historian Renato Constantino emphasized that education in the Philippines, even after independence from the Americans, remains heavily colonial. Thus, he called for an education geared towards “economic emancipation, political independence,” and “cultural renaissance.”

More than half a century since the essay was first published, it appears that our educational institutions have not heeded Constantino’s call, for not only is education in the country still colonially oriented, it is also saturated with bourgeois aspirations. Now, these attributes of Philippine education are more pronounced, thanks to the continuation of classes via remote learning – amid the pandemic and the series of devastating typhoons that bombarded the archipelago.

It was Mong Palatino, an activist and former legislator, who warned that through remote learning, education would be “reduced [to] a mastery of pre-packaged learning materials that are stored in downloadable files in the web cloud.” For this he had been prophetic. Most of our classes now, for instance, solely rely on modules and readings that are left un-contextualized, much less discussed. The consequence? Anything but critical thinking.

Some students – at least from what I have observed of myself, my brothers, and my classmates – only tend to repeat concepts in readings for assignments and “critical papers,” applying them haphazardly to anything given for analysis. This is especially true in DepEd modules, which have tasks that only require a student to copy passages from the module itself to answer reflections and critical questions.

For college students, theories and concepts are sometimes discussed through asynchronous forums such discussions, but I have observed how superficial these are. Apparent misinterpretations in classmates' answers are ignored instead of clarified, for the time and effort to do so is better spent on backlog and other assignments waiting to be answered. To a point, we do discuss things (i.e. answer questions posted in fora, only to comply with the requirement to discuss), but it is a discussion that teachers themselves (who are also victims of the system) can hardly provide feedback on.

It has been a consensus among my peers that remote learning at this precarious time is only a matter of submitting requirements and passing the course. Nuanced and reflexive understanding is replaced by an educational programming of sorts. No critical interrogation or unpacking of theories and concepts happens.

This kind of remote learning reinforces what Paulo Freire called "banking education," in which students merely “receive, memorize, and repeat” what is deposited as knowledge. Such an approach is already characteristic of Philippine education ever since the Spanish and American colonial occupations. Such intensified banking yields more docile minds, and eventually more commodified bodies.

Remote learning is the ultimate rendering of educational institutions as training grounds for “productive” citizens: citizens the state can freely exploit as skilled yet cheap labor in the global market. This much is implied by DepEd Undersecretary for Curriculum and Instruction Diosdado San Juan when he said that the school opening could not be deferred further, because doing so “will have a massive impact [on students’] lives economically – their capacity to earn [will be] affected.”

That the state insists on school amid the pandemic and other disasters clearly suggests an inclination to compromise human well-being in pursuit of capital. It is anything but emancipatory, nor does it lay down the path for “political independence” and “cultural renaissance.”

This privileging of profit and commercial goals creates a mindset that the market is the raison d’etre of education. It renders critical discourse parenthetical and results in the languishing of Filipinos' already poor political awareness. And because it sees globalization as the standard for progress, it treats cultural discussion as incidental, if not superfluous. We are no less colonized than we were under the Americans, or the Spanish for that matter.

An education that facilitates “economic emancipation, political independence,” and “cultural renaissance” cannot simply be reconciled with the banking approach of remote learning. What the former requires is Freire’s problem-posing approach, which frames students as active agents capable of shaking the status quo and transforming their society through open and critical discourse. It is an approach to education that activates “conscientization,” or critical thinking that breaks the chains of oppression – economic, political, or cultural. It enables individuals to de-mythologize the colonizer and dis-identify with him and his standards.

However, because of technological constraints – the lack of appropriate educational infrastructure; and the glaring unpreparedness of educational stakeholders, who are neglected by the state – the problem-posing approach can never be attained. The miseducation of Filipinos in the year of disasters can only be expected to fester. – Rappler.com

Jhio Jan A. Navarro is a BA Psychology student at the University of the Philippines Visayas in Miagao.