Educating for prosperity and peace

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One thing that always impresses me as I travel around the Philippines is the neatly uniformed school children that I see wherever I go.  Some of the uniforms are very formal and look incongruous in this tropical climate, others are bright and bold, while some are just simple and functional. But no matter the style, the school uniform is an important symbol of belonging and also a source of pride for the students.

With the rollout of the K-12 program, Filipino children will now spend an additional two years putting on their uniforms and heading off to school each day.  The Duterte Administration is to be commended for continuing this flagship program of the previous Administration.  The future opportunities of Filipino children and the economic development and competitiveness of the Philippines depend on the education system being on par with other countries.

This is why education is the single biggest component of Australia’s development program in the Philippines, comprising P780 million this year alone. Our national education partnership with the Department of Education, the Basic Education Transformation program, directly supports the K-12 reforms. We have assisted DepEd to develop the new curriculum, improve its governance systems, streamline recruitment of teachers and deliver evidence-based policy making. This program stands to benefit more than eight million children across 19,000 schools.

It is heartening to see that 1.44 million students have enrolled for Year 11 this year and I particularly have to admire the 56,000 people who have chosen to return to school to complete their schooling having graduated some years ago. These people have wisely decided that an additional two years of schooling will increase their job readiness and enable them to take on more skilled work.

It is a common refrain from students when struggling over a difficult homework assignment to question what possible use the learning will have for them in the real world. My response is that you never know when something you learned at school will come in handy. When I was at high school it was customary for female students to learn touch typing. I did this reluctantly determined to pursue a different career. Today, I use and appreciate this practical skill every day. I could not have predicted then the keyboard driven lives we lead today, even in such professions as diplomacy.

But school days are not just about improving employment prospects and gaining practical skills.  Good education embeds less tangible but equally valuable qualities such as confidence, reasoning, judgement, resilience, cooperation and teamwork.  These skills are essential in all walks of life.

In his State of the Nation Address, President Duterte drew the obvious link between enduring peace and his Government’s ability to meet the fundamental needs of every man, woman and child. Education is a critical factor in ensuring inclusive development and lifting people out of extreme poverty. Australia recognises the needs of the poorest and lowest performing regions in the Philippines through our Basic Education Assistance for Muslim Mindanao program. We are working closely with the DepEd of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao focusing on early childhood and basic education to prepare children for school and to improve enrolment and completion. We are soon to roll out the next phase of this program, a commitment of P3 billion over a nine-year period.

Nation building initiatives such as the K-12 program take courage and commitment.  The positive results may not be immediately apparent and a lot of difficult adjustment is necessary during the transitional period. The Philippines is to be admired for taking this leap of faith and forging ahead with the K-12 program.

Every child has a right to a decent education.  President Duterte reiterated in his SONA the Philippines’ commitment to work with international partners to achieve progress.  Australia will continue to support the Philippines in its pursuit of this noble goal.

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(Amanda Gorely is the Australian Ambassador to the Philippines.  Follow her on Twitter @AusAmbPH)
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