Smart or rich?

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on October 4, 2021

Philippines is one of only five countries in the world that have not returned to in-person learning. The school year opened in September this year with approximately 27 million students back in classrooms either remotely or through limited face to face instruction.

Parents, teachers, and students are depending on the personal behaviors and routines they developed last year to help them meet school expectations and cope with the challenges of virtual environments this year.

I was curious to know about the parents’ thought processes after a year of remote learning in their households. Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, would they want their children smart or rich? I asked my educator friends to do informal surveys with parents in their classrooms. The responses demonstrated parents’ thoughts and dreams for the future of their children.

Majority of the parents responded they would prefer their children to be smart than rich. One parent responded that if her daughter is smart, then she would be rich in the future. Another parent responded that money is useless if their children do not have the wisdom to spend it wisely. Still another stated that life is not always about having money, it is about making good choices to fit life’s circumstances.

Is being smart better than being rich? A study by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce showed it is not necessarily the case. Kindergarteners that scored high on assessments but come from low-income backgrounds did not do as well in landing good jobs compared to their peers that scored poorly but come from wealthy backgrounds.

Poorer students do not have access to tutors, extra-curricular opportunities, additional gadgets, and other support that students from well-off families have. Students from rich backgrounds have a 70% chance of meeting educational goals and will have to try very hard to fail compared to low-income students with 30%.

According to the World Bank, there are 18 million poor and vulnerable households that make up 70% of the Filipino population. Students from these households are already at a disadvantage right from the very start. However, there is still hope. Even with the income disparity, a person’s education is the primary legacy parents will provide for their children. Parents will sell their carabaos or bear the loneliness of working overseas to pay for an education that is the starting point to a good future.

While many Filipino families do not have the support that money provides, we can tap into the unlimited power of the extended family. The lolas, lolos, titas, titos and even older siblings can work collectively to ensure each student’s success. The kuya might help with homework, ate with the projects, titas with educational trips, a rich tito can pay for a college education. This is the Filipino adaptation to the African proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”.

We would like our students to be smart yes, but we can also make them rich – rich in the support that an extended family can make possible.

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