Address of Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin, President Ateneo de Manila University, and Chairman, Synergeia Foundation to Synergeia Partners, 9th National Education Summit

29 October 2013

Before this Summit, I only had little knowledge of the work that local governments have been doing in education. I had heard of the role of local school boards in transforming education when I was still at Xavier University in CDO and from the involvement of our faculty in some areas of the ARMM. My familiarity was really limited to the Synergeia Trustees’ meeting. Even so, I havealready been impressed with the significant strides being made in certain localities like Saranggani or Valenzuela. I had a deep appreciation of your work knowing that education is not yet fully devolved to local governments and that it remains the responsibility of central government. It is thus heartening to know that local chief executives and local officials have embraced the mission of ensuring that ALL children in your communities complete basic education. Simple lang naman ang layunin: ang makatapos ang ating kabataan ng kanilang pag-aaral. Tulad ng Kagawaran ng Edukasyon, pinagkaabalahan ninyo na rin ang partisipasyon at pagtatapos ng mga bata. Ginawa niyo na ring batayan ng tagumpay ng inyong pagsisikap ang achievement scores ng ating kabataan sa reading, mathematics at science.

Dito lumilinaw ang inyong malasakit lalo na para sa mga dukha. Hindi ito lingid sa langit at lalo na sa ating kapwa. You have placed a premium on dedicating your time, your full attention, your leadership and your resources in creating a better tomorrow for children.  This is statesmanship, true leadership since what you’re planting now will take a while to grow and this process of sowing and clearing weeds up to harvest time may take longer than your political lifetimes. Children do not vote. But they will someday realize what you have done for them.

Your being here inspires me and so many more who have grown disenchanted with public service. If there is corruption (in PDAF and other scandals) and ignorance that plague our land, it is because of what we have done and failed to do; it is because we have allowed ourselves to be led poorly by bad shepherds. Greed and self-interest can only divide our people and subject them to deeper debt and poverty. On behalf of the Ateneo de Manila University, I welcome you all with a joyful heart.  You bring us hope and strengthen our trust. Because of you, we now know that in your cities and villages, there are shepherds who are sincere and competent to lead their flocks away from slavery to true freedom. Education is deliverance. Education is a noble and holy work of God. When you bring people from darkness to light, you share in God’s desire to recreate us according to who we are, his image and likeness. When you become instrumental to educating and forming these his little ones, you endear yourself to heaven and to our people. Ang inyong malasakit para sa mga maliliit, sa dukha at sa mga musmos ay hindi kailanman malilimutan. Peks man.

If education is deliverance, education is also mission. Isa po itong tawag, a calling, isang panawagan mula sa kaloob-looban ng ating pagkatao, at pagpapakatao. And for this mission to succeed, we will need leaders who we trust, and to whom we can entrust the weakest in society, such as our children. This mission will need leaders who will be sensitive to the dreams and desires of our people, leaders who will be honest and truthful, men and women of vision and conviction. Leaders who have learned to listen and follow and take charge. Leaders who by their lives of integrity will not divide us. Leaders who will inspire us to look beyond our pettiness and bring us to offer ourselves for others, for the common good, the greater good. The mission of education demands leaders who can wield power only so that they can awaken power as well in others, in a spirit of participation and partnership. This mission, “should you decide to accept it,” will mean empowering others to engage themselves in planning and program implementation. It will mean rendering yourselves accountable to the people who themselves have reposed their trust and their power in you. It will be lonesome, this mission of education. It will be trying (even crucifying), this journey of leadership. But I assure you, you will never be alone.

I am pleased to know that you have made Secretary Robredo as your model in education governance. His pioneering work in Naga City in rallying people to work together is most heartening and enlightening. He turned to the Local School Board and made it work. He made it lead. Through the local school board, he demonstrated that education is meant to be a shared responsibility, that education is a commitment of everyone (and not just of the school or of the Deped). He engaged all the sectors in improving the competencies of teachers through training and research. He consulted parents and common folk so that the city’s budget was based on the real needs of the people and not just on bogus projects of the padrinos of the town. He went from school to school, believing that the needs of children would be specific and differentiated, knowing that solutions had to be tailored to the particular context of the communities and that these solutions had to be iterated and progressively tweaked and improved. His policies, programs, budgets and contracts were all made public. He communicated ideas and information with such clarity, simplicity and power that farmers, vendors and laborers could readily understand the issues and participate in the deliberation and eventual solution. He put in place an incentive system that was merit-based, rewarding people for good performance. Synergeia is fortunate that he left us not only with inspiring stories but also with a legacy of actual processes and practices that work. We know that these will endure because they are built not on shifting sand but on firm foundations.

The Synergeia Trustees have been discussing how we can be fully supportive of your work in education governance. We will be developing a “Seal of Good Schoolkeeping” that takes after the “Seal of Good Housekeeping” that Secretary Robredo introduced. It will be awarded to Local School Boards or LSBs that have made great strides in improving access of children to quality education. The Seal will also be in recognition of how these LSBs have transformed their governance to make it ethical, efficient, transparent, and participatory.

In closing, let me just say that the Ateneo de Manila University is excited to partner with you and Synergeia to make this mission of education succeed for our people and our children. The tasks ahead may seem overwhelming. And so we will have to assure each other again and again, that this work is all about deliverance (from slavery to freedom), that this work is noble and holy, a mission that is larger than ourselves. Hindi lingid sa langit ang kabutihan ng inyong loob. Sa sandaling desisyunan natin na aalagaan natin ang kanyang maliliit at musmos, lilingon ang langit at lilingon din ang kapwa natin. At pagpapalain pa tayo nang higit pa sa ating aakalain.

Welcome again to Synergeia and to the Ateneo.May God bless you with a bountiful harvest in this conference and in your service of leadership. Magandang umaga, magandang bukas po sa ating lahat.

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