Why we should be alarmed with #MaJoHa

Professionals in the field of history shed light behind this controversial issue

Prior to the holiday holy week break, Filipinos worldwide was shaken by a series of videos released by Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition show. It opened our eyes to the alarming reality about the youth and their lack of interest and knowledge about our very own history.

FORGOTTEN HISTORY GOMBURZA, SLEX, and Jose Rizal trended for a couple of days online not because of their respected anniversary but because of a controversial quiz bee segment of a reality show (Artwork by Ariana Maralit/https://mb.com.ph/2021/01/26/soaring-high/)

Remember when one of them referred GOMBURZA as "MaJoHa," and the named SLEX as the longest bridge in the country? These videos opened serious discussions about the Philippines' educational system and its effects. But what really are the reasons behind this concern? To shed light to this question, the Manila Bulletin Lifestyle asked several respected personalities and professionals in the field of history and education regarding this matter.

What do you think is the reason behind the youth’s lack of knowledge and interest in the country's history?

It is the sign of great national malady. Result of bad administration, especially now, and big failure of education.—Rio Alma, National Artist for Literature

For me, there are two reasons behind the youth’s lack of knowledge and interest in our country’s history. These are the quantity and quality of Philippine History education in our country. In terms of quantity, while two years have been devoted to the teaching of Philippine History in the elementary levels (grades five and six), the subject has been removed in the high school level and only offered again in the tertiary level. 

In the elementary grades, while indeed Philippine History instruction has been expanded to cover two years, the next question is—how is Philippine history taught and learned? Much of what is taught and learned are basically facts from the past and very limited analysis of these. What is lacking in depth. There is dearth in establishing meaning, connection, and relevance to the present in particular, and life in general. Instruction depends so much on textbooks and rarely are students introduced to the use of historical evidence such as primary sources. Use of evidence in history is not only a historical skill, but an essential life skill as well—a very crucial component of critical thinking especially in these present times where social media take centerstage. Students view Philippine History, and other history courses for that matter, as purely memory work. They get exasperated by facts, hence the dislike for the subject. If only students get to be taught the beauty and significance of Philippine archaeological finds (like the Manunggul burial jar, the Laguna Copperplate Inscriptions, the gold jewelry, the Kalinga butchered rhino with tool marks), they can get to appreciate our prehistoric and ancient history; if students get to read the actual writings of our heroes, they can appreciate their wisdom and character. These historical evidences make history instruction come alive and meaningful. Students get to connect with the past using and analyzing these evidences. These could very well have been the focus of Philippine History in high school. Philippine History should be a dedicated subject in high school, reinforcing and enriching (through the use of primary sources)what was learned in the elementary grades. Unfortunately, not even the subject exists in high school. 

The teaching and learning of Philippine History, or any history course for that matter, can really be overwhelming. The subject covers so many facts, to say the least. But when topics to be taught are focused on what is historically significant and why these are so, and using historical evidence to analyze and make conclusions, students can find its meaning and relevance. Not only would this mold a critical mind, but also Philippine History would strike a chord in their hearts.—Cristina B. Cristobal, Philippine history teacher, Philippine Science High School Main Campus

First, Philippine History as a subject exists only mainly during Grades 5 and 6, then there's a big gap created by its absence in High School. By the time the student encounters the college subject, Readings in Philippine History—most of their knowledge of the subject matter has already diminished. Unlike the past K-10 curriculum where there is a progressive spiral discussion of Philippine History from the elementary to 1st year high school and a gap of three years until it is discussed again in college, the K-12 curriculum leaves the subject matter only in the elementary level.

Second, for learners who have encountered Philippine History, the subject matter is focused on memorization rather than source analysis, fact-checking, and critical analysis of pivotal events in our country’s history. If we are to look at how history subjects are being taught in international schools, these institutions teach the subject to build these skills among students and prepare them not just for collegiate academic life. These institutions teach the subject matter for them to have life skills of critical thinking, reflection, and decision-making based on informed choice.  If we can benchmark on how history is being taught from these institutions and mainstream it to the manner on how we teach history, especially Philippine History, it will also help in the outcomes of increasing reading comprehension and critical thinking among learners, nationwide.  

Third, on the side of education human resources, those people who are assigned to teach Social Studies and subjects related to History are not subject experts or trained under the discipline of the subject matter concerned. This is not saying generalist educators cannot deliver the subject well, but we need to give the same focus and the same level of respect with Social Studies teaching as we teach Science and Mathematics which requires people coming from people who specialize from these subjects to teach these subjects. We can expect that the educators who have deep appreciation of the subject matter of Philippine History will have the passion to teach the subject matter, after all what is the use of teaching methods and theories if you don’t have subject mastery. The educator who has subject mastery, specialization and interest can deliver the subject better.

Fourth, relatability is key to further understanding. For example, how can we make better sense of Contemporary Issues in Grade 10 without a solid Philippine historical background to compare and contrast with?  We need to make sense out of the historical context and relate it to current affairs, and even popular culture among Gen Z. From anime to the latest trends in social media, educators need to have the capacity to make history relatable. We cannot expect students to reflect on the challenges of the Philippine Republics and compare it with the problems of our country’s affairs if they don’t have a solid context on the matter.  The adolescent years are better years to bridge these discussions as these learners would later on be first time voters and young citizens of our country.—Jose Mateo Dela Cruz, High School Philippine History Movement

The reasons behind the youth’s lack of knowledge and interest in the country’s history can be broken down into three major factors.
a. Our country’s system of education—Our educational system is based on western educational policies and curriculum which is a huge impact on how our Filipino students think and learn
b. Environment—The student’s environment can be divided in three categories of family, community, and immediate social networks. These categories help shape the students on how they approach knowledge and learning
c. Culture—Our culture as Filipinos also has something to do with the knowledge and interest of the youth towards history, and it is easily identifiable though our younger generations’ preferences in different fields of interest.— John Emmanuel R. Batacan, faculty, Don Antonio de Zuzuarregui Sr. Memorial Academy, Incorporated