The World Bank recently published a report (which they subsequently apologized for) stating that 80 percent of Filipino children do not know what they ought to know in school. Our citizens’ education or lack thereof is a product of a long historical process.
It is massively difficult to enforce education reforms and capacities during the length of a presidential term. Imagine the volume of work and resources required to train all teachers from primary to tertiary education, invest in classrooms and educational buildings and provide internet access to all Filipino children, among other things that need to be done. Perhaps, all this would require massive investment and the benefits would only be seen in the next generation of children. If we truly think that people are a nation’s competitive advantage, one could say that we are sorely lagging behind, especially in education.
One aspect that contributes to us lagging behind is the state of our children’s health. In the Philippines, a third of our children are stunted, meaning they are short for their age. We rank fifth in East Asia for stunting and are among the top 10 nations for stunting in the world.
Stunting is largely due to the inequality of access to nutritious food, long periods of hunger and a lack of proper nutrition during the first 1,000 days of life. While most would argue that stunting and being of short stature as a genetic trait, a report suggests that in the Philippines, our stunting comes from malnutrition.
According to Unicef, the cost of stunting to the Philippine economy is $1.3 billion. Stunting is believed to pose a risk for poor cognitive development, behavioral problems and poor school achievement that persists through adulthood. Think about a third of our population having all these issues.
Our first government efforts to eradicate malnutrition happened during martial law when food fortification, nutrition programs for public school children and various agricultural initiatives were promoted to ensure that the Philippines was the number one producer of rice in Asia. The National Nutrition Council was also created and signed into law specifically to counter, study and act upon malnutrition problems in the Philippines.
Whether these initiatives were supported in subsequent administrations is up for debate. With the advent of social media, the internet, massive technology and increased connectivity, so much can be done to combat stunting and improve children’s health. The government can institute more farm-to-table programs and urban farming to address micronutrient and caloric deficiencies among urban poor populations.
It is high time people in government massively do something about stunting, malnutrition and children’s health. We are the 27th largest economy in the world according to GDP and the 113th according to GDP per capita standards, yet we are among the worst when it comes to stunting in children. Unacceptable. If something is not done now, the future of the Filipino people and the Philippines is in peril.