Saturday, February 18, 2012

Solutions for Solutions

The following speech was one of the six grand finalists in the 2012 Search for the Philippine Representative to the ESU International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) held in UP School of Economics in Diliman, Quezon City, Feb 18. Around 48 contestants participated in the said tournament and were first divided into six groups of eight for the morning elimination round, after which the top four of each group proceeded to the semi-finals. The semi-finals had two groups of twelve, where the top three of each group eventually advanced to the finals. Judges included Palanca Hall of Fame winner (with 33 prizes!) Edgardo Maranan, ESU Philippines president Dr. Ma. Luz Vilches (of the Ateneo School of Humanities), and former Ambassador to the UK Cesar Bautista. This year's nationals theme was "Wisdom of the Youth." The winner of the contest and this year's Philippine representative to the IPSC in London, May 14-18, 2012, is Bryan Chua from De La Salle University.

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One of the biggest lessons my mother taught me as a kid was this: Clean up your own mess! So, at five years old, I came home one day beaming with pride as I showed her my bag stuffed with what I now know as garbage. My classmates and I made a huge mess in school, and I heroically cleaned it up myself. Looking back, I think I’d just been watching too many episodes of the cartoon series Captain Planet, whose title character’s main job is to save the world from pollution.

Five years ago, when the film An Inconvenient Truth won the Oscar, I was tasked to speak at a district scouting camp on saving the earth. This time, I wasn’t Captain Planet, I was Al Gore. My audience? One hundred and fifty… first graders. It was crazy! The entire time I was onstage, I didn’t know if that silent crowd of kids was actually listening to me, or to their teachers whispering to each of them to clap loudly when I’ve finished – and well, the applause that came after was certainly rousing.

But what followed my speech was even crazier. This huge group of kids approached me and just suddenly began regaling me with all sorts of ideas on saving mother earth and how they themselves could actually help do it. I thought, “How cute!”

Now this eight-year-old cousin of mine – she’s even cuter. She once asked me why the Philippines is poor. I told her that among other things, it’s because our leaders are not doing their jobs properly. So she said: “That’s easy. They’re bad. We just have to change them.” Well, open your TV, grab a newspaper, and see how long it takes to change just one man in government.

But here’s what I’ve realized: The youth are not afraid to think big, and do big things. They may not always know the right answer to every question, but they know that there is an answer. Cynics would call that foolishness. I call that wisdom – one that is not so much a gift of age, and certainly one not many older people can claim to possess.

I believe the single most important thing we can do for our youth is to cultivate that wisdom. Science tells us a child’s brain is at least four times as active as an adult’s. Nearly everything that has to do with our development, learning in particular, happens in the first ten years of life. So then, what I think we ought to highlight in schools is how to find the right answers. In short, creating solutions. How can we prevent something from happening? How can we achieve a desired effect?

In high school, I attended the Mathematics Trainers’ Guild program, or MTG. It’s a twelve Saturday session that, to put it bluntly, teaches calculus to second year high school students. That’s like teaching sixth grade math to fourth grade kids. We were graded not by arriving at a final answer, but by how we arrived at the final answer. If a problem is worth ten points, nine would be allotted to our solution. In life, that’s how it works: We spend 90% of our time thinking of a solution.

Every year, hundreds of Filipino kids trained by MTG go abroad and compete in various competitions. I… was never one of those kids, but every time I read of another delegation bringing home hundreds of medals, I see hope for this country.

A month ago, the international bank HSBC predicted that by the year 2050, the Philippines would already be the 16th largest economy in the world. That’s 38 years from now, and by then, this world would already be run by the wisdom of an entirely new generation. You know, I can almost hear our Department of Tourism saying: “2050. More Fun in the Philippines.”

Many of us here were once young. A lot of us here still feel young. To nurture this culture of searching for solutions and finding the answers will be the greatest legacy the higher generation can leave us – the Filipino youth. Who knows? If all goes well, by 2050, we might all as well be saying, “Cleaning up your mess. More Fun in the Philippines.”

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1. Arizza Nocum, if you get to read this, you were my girl. Thank God - and Allah. ;-)

2. Mr. Chua, by the time you're in London, the Sweeney Todd West End revival would already be in full swing, with the Michael Ball playing the title character. Just sayin'.

3. I'll be 21 on May 20, 2013.  I wonder what that means, given that ESU IPSC has a maximum age limit of 20. 

4. I must go back to my pelvises and cervices and family planning methods now.

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