I am currently in Lausanne, Switzerland attending a conference on the use of science and technology for sustainable development. Yesterday, in one of the plenary sessions, the famous neuro-scientist Dr. Miguel Nicolelis, developer of Brain Machine Interfaces and one of those considered the forerunners in emerging technologies emphasized a very strong point – that the critical years in the development of children are not the time that they are already in formal schools but prior to it – 0 to five years old. He argued that for us to be able to develop the next Einsteins in this age, we need to educate the children even before they were born. This is not all thoughts and ideas, as Dr. Nicolelis is currently building the “city of the brain” in Natal, Brazil, with facilities for pregnant women, so that the child can be educated at age zero, and facilities for elementary, secondary, and tertiary learning.
I am fascinated by this idea coming to life. A facility such as this, informed by science and reinforced by emerging practices from neuro-scientists, pedagogists and psychologists, tell us that the future of this generation is still in education, but doing that education needs to be early on, and needs to be well. In Nicolelis’ city, there are no strict rules in grammar and punctuation, or commands to straighten up rows and seal mouths, but a very interactive world where children play and learn at the same time.
It brings me to a point, that in this type of paradigm, even the unborn is critical. But sadly, the unborn is socially voiceless (but need not be, medically). So we do not have policies for the unborn (except for example, if one legalizes abortion, or when one commands strict pre-natal procedures). We also do not have programs for the unborn, (except again in the medical sense when mothers are required to attend counselling and pre-natal activities). The unborn also have virtually no media coverage (except when a movie star got a miscarriage or when a dead fetus is found in a garbage can somewhere). More critically, we do not have an education program that already starts the education of the unborn. It makes me think aloud, as I let Dr. Nicolelis sign the book I bought that was written by him, that I wish I was born in Natal, Brazil in this age, and wished as well that Tagbilaran City has that same “brain city”.
But all these talk really border on the ideas of priority. In a country, or city, with limited resources as Tagbilaran City, in the Philippines, one has to contend with scarce financial resources that are needed to fund all sorts of basic social and economic needs. But more to that, there is the politics of resource allocation – where the prioritization ethic of local leaders get in the way of what is really deserving of attention and problems.
We have bad roads in Tagbilaran not because good roads are not needed, but because someone somewhere chose not to fund it. But we have bags for school children, and birthday cakes for the elderly. But roads are needed for the unborn, especially when the pregnant mother needs to travel from her place to the centers to get quality pre-natal care. The analogy may be a little far stretched, but in this world, this is true, the voiceless do not get heard, though they are critical. I wonder if citizens in a big city as Tagbilaran are voiceless, because all these ramblings, all these common aspirations, from the tricycle driver I talked with to the planners in the province all lamented this story state.
I looked at the pictures of my children, and wonder what is their future like, in this present absurd linearity of the educational system. My son goes to a private school in a cramped classroom, where instruction is en-masse and not personalized. I am not wishing for a one-to-one teacher to student ratio, as it never happens even in the developed world, but a system where children are accorded the kind of attention they need, especially in their mental fragile condition. If my child does not learn Mathematical tables, the teacher blames it to the children, and to the lack of time of the parents. I wonder if this logic holds and still relevant in basic education.
If we are not good, even at developing children, then we are probably worse in developing the unborn, the babies, and those that are not yet in age for school. You might say I did not have these things when I was still in the womb of my mother, or when I was a toddler, or when I grew up, but I still manage to survive and be the kind of person I am now. But the world has changed tremendously since 1975, and the complexity we are now, with the noise of information and the plethora of tools for almost anything we want, a solid foundation is necessary so that one will not go astray.
The voiceless are critical. The day is yet to come when we will be able to listen to them. But the insight of Dr. Nicolelis can be a guide for our leapfrogging in our desire of building a better future.