By Dean dela Paz
By the time a Filipino reaches the age of 14, he will be eligible to register as an entry-level voter. Save for some inconveniences, theoretically, the requirements to fill a voter’s registration form should not demand too much from the mind of a young person presumably on his way to obtaining a college degree.
Turning fifteen, he will be eligible to vote and run for the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK). By eighteen, he can vote in regular elections. The same age benchmarks apply to candidates, save for posts which require minimum years, where age is assumed a measure of deeper discernment.
For as long as he can read and write, higher levels of maturity and intellect, the abilities to reason and rationalize, the capacities to learn and discern are unnecessary to fill voter registration forms.
These minimal expectations match those asked of elected officials. Hence, the quality of our present crop. There are no measures of intellect or even educational attainment, moral character, principles, and integrity (or even of substance abuse) – albeit much needed now than at any other time.
Other statutory requirements concern citizenship, residence, and loyalty. There is also the question of mental incapacity. But to be adjudged incapable requires court action or a certification by a competent authority. The government has effectively reduced standards to the lowest common denominators.
There is however a hitch. Here, our 90.9 education poverty index measured at the age of 10 enters the equation. The index imposes imperatives given skills critical at the pre-school stage from ages 3 to 5 as we are weaned from baby bottles and diapers. Five years from age 10, the Filipino who can neither read nor write will have the right to vote. In eight, he will be determining the president of the republic. Think about it. Monkeys might qualify.
Because 90% of brain growth occurs at pre-school ages, the learning curve is at its steepest at that time. When a child’s brain development is fastest, neural connections are either sufficiently formed or not formed. If these are not developed by the fifth year, they would be difficult to form later in life thus tragically impacting on long term success or failure, and the kind of leaders we might elect.
Now allow some specificity. From the sixth year, Filipinos should be able to read, and spell simple sight words as well as write simple sentences.
In the United States, partnering with families and communities, voters established an organization called First-Things-First (FTF) to help children prepare for success. According to FTF, between ages 6 to 8, a child should be able to write page-long narratives or opinion pieces. Do the math. That is from 2 to 4 years prior to our unfortunate 90.9 index.
Now ascertain popular perception on educational issues, and perhaps strike a firestone to ignite an analysis of the criticality of prioritizing programs following the public’s needs. In a milieu of lies and historical revisionism, Marshall McLuhan’s theories on media and mass behavior play a significant role. At the very least, these measure good messaging for the government’s largest bureaucracy.
Recall three top issues regarding our educational priorities, each virtually under a non-academician.
One, the prioritization of inculcating a military mindset under the Reserve Officer Training Course.
Two, huge incremental allocations of P150 million of confidential funds on top of the over P848 billion for a department that should hold no secrets and even bigger P500 million confidential funds for an office outside the mainstream security services.
Three, over P3.4 billion denied from the original requirements for the University of the Philippines system, the removal of P532 million from Special Education Programs, and the Commission on Higher Education’s own initiative to defund by over P170 million.
In essence, sans program specificity, none focus on the 90.9 index. Citing ‘’the youth(‘s) recruitment to terror risk’’, these issues substantiate curious notions held by officials that “education has a direct link to national security.”
The disconnect between the 90.9 index and the axiom that education is the key to a prosperous and enlightened future are not for fuzzy abstract metaphysical debate. The glaring examples of our poverty indices, the shameless failure of education and the supremacy of lies abound in an expanding milieu of disinformation. An educated population of the less-prone to manipulation might have protected us from losing the democracy we once held as sacrosanct as our suffrage rights. Unfortunately, see now where in the tall grass our revered vote has been dumped.
Despite a lack of apropos academic credentials, two highest officials control critical portfolios beyond those required by the Constitution. This whimsical arrogation concentrates power and funds behind surreptitious agenda both complex and covert.
As appropriated powers increase their stranglehold over the bureaucracy, what results reflect profound concerns. Given the 90.9 education poverty index, and its negative impact on creating the bureaucracy, where then is the impetus to address our learning deficit seeing the index perpetuates political power?
(Dean dela Paz is a former investment banker and a managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance and Mathematics professor.)