Liberal Concepts for Education Reform
(October 1 - 13, 2006)
By Ina-mari Paola T. Claravall
Paola T. Claravall
Participating in the “No Education: No Freedom, No Opportunity”
seminar’s third phase at the Theodor-Heuss-Akademie in Gummersbach,
Germany gave me the opportunity to re-examine my thoughts on education
in general and education reform in particular; this time under the
groundwork of liberalism.
The pre-seminar conducted online enabled the 25 participants
from 12 different countries to start the seminar’s final
phase on the same page and to interact with more ease. The program
concentrated on fundamental concepts of liberalism and education,
the state of education in various regions, organization, finance
and structure of education, education and the promotion of liberal
democracy, the German system of education and the discussion of
wider issues such as securing opportunities and keeping up with
The participants of the seminar were clear that the foremost
aim of education is to propagate self-reliance and self-determination.
This means that education endeavors to give the individual the
ability to decide for oneself. To achieve this end, everyone must
be equipped with the faculty to understand one’s rights,
other people’s rights and the common respect needed for
these rights to flourish. Education paves the way for reason,
which is a prerequisite for freedom and self-fulfillment.
A motivating set text extracted from the best-selling book Freakonomics
by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner solicited interesting views
from the participants. The book’s fifth chapter, “What
Makes a Perfect Parent,” discussed the results of the U.S.
Department of Education’s project in the 1990s called Early
Childhood Longitudinal Study or ECLS. This project sought to measure
the academic progress of more than 20,000 children from kindergarten
through fifth grade. The authors, using regression analysis that
utilizes the statistical techniques identifying otherwise elusive
correlations, postulate that a child’s ability to test higher
in school is affected not by what parents do but what parents
are. Levitt and Dubner suggest that “… by the time
most people pick up a parenting book, it is far too late. Most
of the things that matter were decided long ago — who you
are, whom you married, what kind of life you lead. If you are
smart, hardworking, well-educated, well-paid, and married to someone
equally fortunate, then your children are more likely to succeed.”
I found this assertion, as did most of my co-participants, rather
too dispiriting as it gives the notion that no amount of parenting
technique could alter a child’s success just because of
his or her default blood relation. Further discourse among the
group led to the conclusion that while the statements of the authors
leave room for more discussion, we all meet at the principle that
parents play a crucial role in a child’s academic performance.
This, we said, should be of utmost consideration when formulating
reforms in education.
Early Childhood Learning
It was stressed that early learning must be universally available
for a minimum of one year before a child enters primary school.
This will hopefully prepare the child and make him interested
in learning. This, too, shall introduce him to skills required
to learn. Early childhood learning will also expose a child to
proper behavior and interaction with other people and other communities
at an early age. This in effect teaches him diversity and tolerance,
which are essential to a person’s character when he pursues
Early childhood learning should make all children adequately
prepared for primary schooling. The curricula must be more flexible
compared to other stages so that children are motivated to explore
and think for themselves. This will likewise elicit the curiosity
of first-time learners.
The participants agreed that special attention must be given
to early learning in impoverished areas where educational drawbacks
are severe. Attracting qualified teachers in these areas are crucial,
and the only way to do this is to provide them with more incentives.
Promoting the benefits of early childhood learning among parents
is also integral to the improvement of pre-schools. It was proposed
that introducing tax incentives for enterprises establishing pre-schools
must be arranged.
Early learning requires specialized education and training of
teachers. Educators must be equipped with knowledge in innovative
and relevant instruction so as to cater to the demands of effective
early education. To remain competitive, teachers must also pursue
further learning to update their methods of teaching and education
Parents must continually be involved in consultation and encouraged
to participate in school activities. Contributing to curricular
and extra-curricular activities will ensure that parents are aware
of the kind of learning their child acquires. This will also open
up avenues for grievances and suggestions in the school’s
Primary and Secondary Education
Of late, the chief requirement of primary and secondary education
institutions is the provision of facilities such as computers,
laboratories and other teaching materials. Given that most governments,
despite continuous efforts to provide such needs, do not have
adequate funds, it was proposed that they open the field of education
to private investors by providing appealing conditions, reducing
regulation and ensuring legal security. Schools must also remain
autonomous and given internal freedom in such matters as time
tables, lesson planning, social activities, co-curricular activities,
testing and evaluation of students, among others.
This autonomy, which the German school system espouses, was
displayed during a visit to the Marie Curie Gymnasium in Dresden
where we were allowed to observe classes and listen to students
talk about their various activities and how these are executed
with minimal intervention from school authorities.
Tertiary and Vocational Training
From a liberal perspective, access to education is universal,
but as the seminar’s synthesis asserts, “…universal
access need not always mean ‘free’ access.”
It has been established during discussion that tertiary education
is not a right, and is thus up to society to make it more accessible.
Students and companies, the participants agreed, must be encouraged
to cooperate. Schemes must be put into place where companies fund
students’ higher education in return for a commitment to
work for that certain company for a certain period of time. The
market must normalize the entry of students to universities, thereby
instituting an admission system based on the merits of every candidate.
The need for a system of repayable loans for those who wish to
study higher education was also emphasized. Ideally, commercial
banks may provide such credit, but the state may have to provide
initial guarantees. This practice has been adopted in some countries,
but the Philippines has yet to institute a comprehensive system
such as this. Government may also give government-sponsored scholarships
to deserving students who perform well in competitive examinations.
An appealing alternative to tertiary schooling that is already
established in Germany’s education system is vocational
training. It is a fact that more or less 40 percent of German
students prefer vocational training over tertiary education because
of the proliferation of vocational courses and the jobs that await
those who finish such a type of education.
I believe that there is need to shift how we perceive vocational
training and its graduates here in the country. Vocational education
is commonly judged menial vis-à-vis a university degree.
Globalization has changed the world in such a way that the education
system needs to respond to the market, and the Philippines needs
to heed this call; vocational training must be improved and promoted.
Liberalism supports the idea that education is a continuing process.
Liberals reject various impediments to achieving education such
as age, gender and culture, among others. It is believed that
education must constantly be updated, and even adults who wish
to attain literacy must be encouraged and assisted.
Life-long learning may be formal and informal in form. Besides
post-graduate studies, new knowledge may be acquired through seminars,
informal discussions, exposure to various media, etc.
Learning must not stop, given the demands of a globalizing world.
Knowledge and skills must constantly be updated to remain relevant
and competitive. To encourage constant learning, it is imperative
to promote a culture of self-improvement.
The “No Education: No Freedom, No Opportunity” seminar
was certainly challenging and informative. The chance to interact
and share ideas with outstanding individuals from various cultures
was exceptional. The propositions on education reform crafted
by the participants during the program will hopefully find their
way into the education systems of different countries soon so
that more people will find access to education and enjoy more
freedom and opportunities.