Jul 8, 2010

Education: The Most Powerful Antidote Part 1

The Importance of Education Transformation in the Philippines:

In communities where tension between cultural and religious values often leads to conflict, schools are important transmitters and transformers of cultural values. Increasingly, the schools are also contested terrain. According to Hussin Mutalib, an expert on Southeast Asian issues at the National University of Singapore, there has been a resurgence and reinforcement of the Islamic identity in Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, this was especially intensified in the 1950s after the government-sponsored movement of Christians into the predominantly Muslim region of Mindanao, placing pressure on Muslim landowners. Jeffrey Ayala Milligan, in a 2003 article "Teaching Between the Cross & The Crescent Moon," identified an upward trend of Muslims going to hajj in Saudi Arabia and seeking education in the Middle East. Since the 1980s when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afghanistan, militants from many countries have made pilgrmages to fight a jihad in Afghanistan, Pakistan and contested Kashmir. More money and missionaries are being sent from the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia where there has been a proliferation of religious schools.

While there have been some modest efforts at educational change in Mindanao that often include interfaith efforts, many Muslim teachers doubt the sincerity of the Philippine government since there has been little change in the conditions of schools. In an impoverished country, the textbook is often the be-all, end-all of education for many children. Unfortunately, Islam culture and Muslim contributions to Philippine history are usually absent form textbooks. Instead, Filipino Muslim history only receives extremely limited representation, and Muslims are typically represented as dangerous rebels. This has contributed to a sense of exclusion. Muslim families have turned to madaris (that usually concentrate on teaching the Arabic language and Islam) to nurture their children's Islamic identities. However, this is problematic as madrasah curriculum is not accepted by the Department of Education, limited opportunities for higher education and jobs for madrasah graduates. Furthermore, sending a Muslim child to two different schools may require the child to learn 4 or more different languages--a problem in an impoverished education system.

When AAI President Albert Santoli first visited the Sulu province in 2002, he found schools in dismal conditions. They were overcrowded, with 60 to 90 children packed into windowless classrooms. There was no running water or proper sanitation facilities, there were no textbooks and only 1 chair for every 7 children. The school health system fared just as poorly. Nurses often do not receive salaries, or funds to purchase medicines. More often than not, they dip into their own pockets to buy aspirin and other basic medicines, even though they have their own children at home.

Asia America Initiative (AAI) believes that Education is key to our overall strategy for the Development for Peace approach as well as for the security of the region. AAI has focused on building Model of Excellence schools, particularly in Sulu, by providing learning and Information Technology (such as computers and educational television), and initiating programs such as Adopt-a-Classroom. AAI also supports college students from the Philippines, raising funds to help pay for our scholars' tuition. AAI believes that education enables communities to rise above intolerance and religious differences, and in the long run, build peace and progress.

AAI has partnered with the U.S. based Muslim Women Coalition and Philippine interfaith organizations to provide direct support for some 25,000 students from pre-school through college. Since the Adopt-a-Classroom program was started, there have been o acts of terrorism in the schools' immediate vicinities. Now students have chairs, desks, textbooks and even some computers. However, this only represents the first stage of the work AAI must do in order to build peace in the region. AAI is currently exploring ways to incorporate moderate Islam education into the national curriculum, and facilitates cultural trust and understanding through our ongoing Peace Caravans.

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