Because we can.
I have been teaching for four years – three years in an elite high school and one year in a public (state) university. Prior to these experiences, I had been involved in outreach activities sponsored by our local church in urban poor areas through teaching youngsters and teens. With these experiences plus the fact that I attended both public and private institutions, I can attest to the social inequalities in my country in terms of education. I can still vividly remember concrete examples by observation and actual interaction: brothers who share one school uniform (one uses it in the morning, the other wears it in the afternoon), kids who sell plastic bags for school allowance, and freshmen students who can afford to travel abroad on the weekend right after the exam week. The first youngsters barely made it through high school, and when they did, they ended up as meagerly-paid laborers; while the latter students have gone to one of the four elite universities in my country. Against this backdrop, I silence in reflection: Certainly, there is an educational gap; the next issue would be: Is this educational gap the cause of socio-economic inequality or the effect of the latter? The last but most important concern is: What ought to be done?
Educational gaps further widen socio-economic inequality; this imbalance in effect further widens educational gap especially when the privileged few remain in their social comfort zones.[i] While many analysts would say that the government should be the primary player in responding to this national problem, it is also every people’s responsibility to ‘respond’ indeed to these problems according to what they have. That’s the missing link in the education-development nexus.
Access to education will not suffice to achieve sustainable development. Given the relationship between educational gap and socio-economic inequality, the problems will continue because the rich continues to relish in their comfort zone. I tried to be part of the solution: I penetrated into their circles by teaching (and influencing) the sons of the privileged class in this country to be ‘men for others.’ I’m not sure if it worked. I just believe I did my part.
Integral to the goal of bridging gaps in small but meaningful ways is to also immerse oneself in the spheres of the less-privileged. I had the opportunity to teach in a state university which receives meager budget for higher education. Despite this fiscal problem, I would encourage my students to be true to becoming ‘scholars of and for the people.’ In order to maximize the goal of reaching out to the less-privileged, it is imperative to empower them with the knowledge and skills they need for actual work more than mere access to education.
Education should be a tool for empowerment. When the youth is genuinely empowered, they can contribute to sustainable development.
This way, we share in the learning process, empowering the youth so that we may all contribute to development.
Why youth? Because we can, and we should.
[i] The ADB asserted that governments must implement measures that will help low-income earners have more access to assets like land and financing, and to public services like education and health. The World Bank also reported that the proportion of the population going to colleges and universities has grown over the years, but growth is concentrated on people belonging to higher-income households.