MANILA, August 7, 2005
 (STAR) By Preciosa S. Soliven - The 52-year-old ASPnet and UNESCO Club is the largest youth network for literacy, unity, and multi-cultural diversity. An average of 40 to 50 elementary, high school, and teacher training colleges per country are carefully selected for their dynamic influence in the community. ASPnet (Associated Schools Project Network) schools are intended to be unique and innovative. They are supposed to be "educational pacesetters" in the province.

A few weeks ago, a forum for 100 deans of education, superintendents, principals and teachers from CAR (Cordillera Autonomous Region), Regions I, II and III gathered to review UNESCO concerns for education, culture, communication, and the sciences. It was an exciting discovery to find high-school students from Luzon engaged in small business ventures using their creative talents with the strong guidance of their teachers and principals.

What is extraordinary is that whole communities are influenced by the mushroom culture and buro (fermented rice) business of Bayambang National High School in Pangasinan that some of those engaged in the piggery business switched to cultivating mushrooms, which is less messy and just as profitable. The same thing happened in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, where principal Cesar Realubin proudly stated that the whole town is now engaged in carving wooden toy furniture reflecting Spanish colonial design. Schoolyards of Pangasinan schools have also dug out fishponds which provide students and teachers good income.

The Bacnotan High School in La Union produces basi (Ilocano rum), but they need help in packaging and marketing. Dean Eduardo Borja said, "Mariano Marcos State University in Batac, Ilocos Norte, is into material development doing modules and manuals for teachers." Dean Roque Bernardez of Saint Louis University in Baguio is proud that the UNESCO program for "inclusive" education has been added to their teacher-training syllabus. They have even accepted the enrollment of more visually-impaired and hearing-impaired students into the university. Most of the Cordillera schools give importance to literacy programs for indigenous or tribal people like the Tabuk Central School and Cagayan State University. There is a unanimous appeal among CAR superintendents and principals (their Regional Director is Remedios Taguba) to have quality ECE teacher-training and curriculum. It is so urgent because they fear that the failure of sixth-grade students to enter high school is due to the lack of preschools.

To focus on the remnants of American heritage in Baguio, principal Benita Eleponga is proud to say that their Baguio Central School building is one of the heritage sites put up in 1898 by Americans with only 15 boys – and now it has 3,359 pupils. Unfortunately, several schools do not even realize that they are living within UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS). Batanes Division Superintendent Corazon Barrientos, who supervises the Sabtang National High School of Fisheries, does not realize that UNESCO is considering naming Sabtang, Itbayat, and parts of Basco as a World Heritage Site for "living traditions." She speaks of the fish-canning project instead of their unique community practice by which a fishing community divides itself into fishing groups, drying groups, and distribution groups so that everybody gets an equal share of the harvest without money passing hands. The Laoag National High School does not also know that it is privileged to be so close to the World Heritage Site of Paoay and the Sta. Maria baroque churches.

Right after this forum, we were engaged in the National Workshop on the Conservation of World Heritage Sites in the Philippines. For two days, UNESCO experts from the Heritage Committee Alessandro Balsamo and hydraulic engineer expert from the University of Milan Mauro Greppi, together with regional expert Richard Engelhardt and Filipino engineer Ricardo Favis, analyzed the problems of WHS restoration with the local WHS managers. The Palawan natural sites of Tubbataha Reef and the Subterranean River of St. Paul were observed to have good management teams. Since they are of ancient construction with many of them using coral stones and fragile limestone, the baroque churches of San Agustin in Intramuros, Sta. Maria in Ilocos Sur, and Miag-ao in Iloilo are difficult to manage.

A major concern of UNESCO Paris is the dilemma of using modern technology to preserve the Ifugao Rice Terraces, which is on the endangered list of WHS. The workshop helped the site managers understand how they can continue to preserve the sites with the guidance of local experts, scientists, archeologists, and hydraulic engineers guided by UNESCO standards, which recommend special local legislation for these valuable legacies to mankind.

Since UNESCO would like to invite the Philippines to add other sites for the so-called "WHS Tentative List," a four-day workshop was held by the UNESCO National Commission (NatCom) and NCCA (National Center for Culture and the Arts). Sites considered were the Tabon Cave, Agusan marshes, Sierra Madre rainforest, Bohol’s Chocolate Hills and its baroque churches. It may take an average of four years to prove its "outstanding universal value."

The UNESCO Clubs/ASPnet part II and III fora will continue in Cebu and Davao this coming week. On August 10, the University of San Carlos will be the venue for participants from Regions VI, VII, and VIII. On August 12 the Ateneo de Davao University forum will be for Regions IX, X, XI, XII and CARAGA. Metrobank and Aboitiz Foundations, Mayor Eduardo Duterte and the League of Cities of the Philippines, as well as the publishing houses of Maryland, SD, Vibal and Rex Bookstore are co-sponsoring the three fora in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

As Secretary-General of the UNESCO National Commission of the Philippines, I am very pleased to see that most of our participants in the Luzon forum are persistent and determined to upgrade their community life. We hope that we can now start to draw up a new list of innovative ASPnet and UNESCO Club candidates who will be committed to the ideals of 21st-century education, as well as submit yearly reports to the UNESCO NatCom.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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