Life skills for young Filipinos

Amid a renewed push—led by incoming vice president and education secretary Sara Duterte—to revive mandatory military training, I believe that one productive way to steer the ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) debate is to direct our attention to the broader (and more important) question of what are the skills that our young people actually need and that are not currently addressed by the educational system.

In this vein, let me enumerate some of the life skills that I think every Filipino child should learn:

First, first aid. As a medical doctor, I have seen how clueless people can be during times of emergency, not just in the performance of actual medical interventions (eg, CPR) but in taking the practical steps to help someone (eg, calling for an ambulance). Therefore, apart from preparing young people to deal with such emergencies and navigate our health care system, they should be able to deal with everyday health concerns without having to go to a clinic.

Second, self-defense. Amid various threats Filipinos—especially women—face, self-defense is essential. Thankfully, we already have rich traditions that we can tap into, not least of which are Filipino martial arts. However, given how the law is weaponized in our country, we should also expand this concept to include how Filipinos can arm themselves with their rights to defend themselves from exploitation and abuse legally.

Third, riding a bike. Cycling can do wonders for physical and mental health and the environment; it can save a lot of money amid rising oil prices—but many don’t know where to begin. School-based programs, including providing free bicycles and organizing bike schools, can move us closer to realizing the dream of bikeable, sustainable cities.

Fourth, swimming. Some years back, I wrote a column (“Filipinos should know how to swim,” 3/29/2018) about how, given that we are a maritime nation, Filipinos need to know how to swim. This is not just to help prevent the numerous drowning incidents that have sadly become a staple of our news, but to embrace a recreation (and sport) that we can be good at—and to appreciate more of our archipelago.

Fifth, disaster preparedness and response. Disasters will continue to happen in our country, and knowing how to prepare and respond to them—fires, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, and many others—is essential, and so are a range of survival skills apart from first aid like orientation, foraging, and cooking. (I learned these as an Eagle Scout and I think the Scouting program can continue to play a role in promoting various skills).

Sixth, wellness and nutrition. Health has long been a grade school subject, but much more can be done in equipping young people with the practical health skills to identify nutritious food and actually prepare it—as well as to make their bodies fit without resorting to potentially dangerous products and practices— from the use of anabolic steroids to resorting to unproven cosmetic procedures.

Seventh, basic psychosocial skills. Young people today find themselves dealing with their own mental health issues and those around them. Acting on what some call a “mental health pandemic” requires young people to be equipped with the skills to take care of themselves and support their peers.

Eighth, sexual and reproductive health. In the course of my qualitative researches, I have heard sex workers say they drink Perla-infused water (yes, the soap) to treat tulo (ie gonorrhea), and I have heard young people say that taking a shower will prevent HIV. However, we need to do better in terms of promoting proper condom and contraceptive use; the prevention of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; family planning, and gender sensitivity.

Ninth, financial management and entrepreneurship. In an age where cryptocurrencies, NFTs, multilevel marketing companies, and “financial literacy seminars” offer economic salvation, are our young people equipped to plan their finances and maximize entrepreneurial opportunities?

Tenth, digital literacy. From fact-checking videos and memes to protecting their privacy online; From understanding social media etiquette to recognizing the dangers of online fraud and disinformation, digital literacy is more vital than ever.

By no means is this list exhaustive; surely, young people themselves have ideas and inputs that we can learn from. So what do you think are the life skills that every Filipino child should learn? And how can the Department of Education help bring about the acquisition of these vital skills?

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