Education for children should empower – not indoctrinate

Girl's Global poster UNICEF report

Since the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) agreed in 2000, the Philippine Islands have experienced many challenges and natural disasters that would undermine any Country’s ability to function, provide services and to make any meaningful progress towards these goals.

The second goal of the MDG’s is to achieve Universal Primary Education by the year 2015. The Watchtower Society seems unaware of the details of the educational aims of the MDG’s, but is nevertheless providing translated religious materials to schools in the Philippines.

The fact sheet that has looked at progress towards the MDG goals notes:

Poverty, gender and place of residence are key factors keeping children out of school. Children and adolescents from the poorest households are three times more likely to be out of school than children from the richest households.

Even in the richest households, girls are more likely to be out of school than boys. Globally, 123 million youth aged 15 to 24 lack basic reading and writing skills; 61 per cent of them are young women.

Progress in reducing the number of out-of-school children has come to a standstill as international aid to basic education in 2011 fell for the first time since 2002. This stalled progress, combined with reductions in aid, has put the chances of meeting the 2015 target at risk.

This is no more so than in the Philippines were the Government spends approximately 2.9% on education and is therefore reliant on a range of other funders, including business and religious organisations to fill the financial gap. The Government provides opportunities for some organisations to deliver educational resources at the local level and in association with various Universities, some organisations are taking advantage of available funding to supply books.

The Unesco Report Philippine Education For all 2015, Implementation and Challenges points out that:

“Other qualified service providers are colleges and universities offering education courses and NGOs with an education mandate. Money is paid per child per month to the service provider for the salary of teachers, instructional materials and administrative costs.”

There are between 120 to 175 languages, in the Philippines depending on the method of classification. It is also estimated that there maybe over 300 dialects.

The plan for “education for all” is documented in the Unesco report of 54 pages. The focus has been around 5 main goals with the aim of strengthening and deepening the implementation of a Child-Friendly School System which promotes rights-based education.

The five goals are:

Goal 1: Expand and improve comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children;
Goal 2: Ensure that by 2015, all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality;
Goal 3: Ensure that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable access to appropriate learning and life skills programs;
Goal 4: Achieve a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2105, especially for women and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults;
Goal 5: Eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2015, with focus on ensuring girls full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality; and 
Goal 6: Improve every aspect of the quality of education, and ensure their excellence so that recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

These goals were transformed into an action plan within the Philippines that is currently being rolled out at a national and local level using a range of service providers.

Within this mix of providers and with the surprising support of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of the Philippines Inc.

It is reported by the INQUIRER.NET, that the Watchtower Society have translated some children’s religious materials into the Bicol language and provided some free books. The article states “that the aim is to help children understand moral values better.” It is unclear from the report whether the Watchtower Society has received any money for this work or for the books. The translators are volunteers.

Scouring the Unesco report Philippine Education For all 2015, Implementation and Challenges and looking at the materials from the Education Department website, there is no mention of the “understanding of moral values” – as interpreted by one religious group – as being an educational aim.

Looking at existing materials that Jehovah’s Witnesses have created for children, the Philippines Education Department should have some concerns about the materials that may be going into schools.

Of the 24 Bible stories for children that are currently available on the Jehovah’s Witness website, 22 are about adult men and the two stories that mention girls are called “Rebekah Was Willing to Please Jehovah” and “She wanted to Help.”

Both stories present young girls as subservient and compliant. A servant girl is a provider of help for the sick. The story of Rebekah is about how she is assessed while giving water to camels as to whether she would make a suitable wife.

Surely young girls need better role models than this?

Here is part of the story of “Rebekah”

Eliezer now prays that the one he should choose to be a wife for Isaac will reply to his request for a drink of water by saying: “Take a drink, and I shall also water your camels.”

Rebekah watering camels This is exactly what happens! “Very attractive” young Rebekah arrives at the well. To Eliezer’s request for a drink, she says: “For your camels too I shall draw water.” As she is running “yet again and again to the well to draw water,” Eliezer gazes at her “in wonder.”

Just think! To satisfy ten thirsty camels, Rebekah needs to bring them up to 250 gallons [1,000 L] of water!

Eliezer provides Rebekah with beautiful gifts, and he learns that she is the daughter of Bethuel, a relative of Abraham’s. Rebekah invites Eliezer and his friends to her family’s home “to spend the night.” Then she runs ahead to tell them of the visitors that Abraham has sent all the way from Canaan to see them.

This type of stereotypical gendered material will not provide a balanced view of society for girls and boys. 

This is just one example of many issues that are problematic within the materials for children provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses. These materials are out of tune with the Millennium Development goals (and the post MDG agenda) of eliminating gender disparity (especially for girls) in education. While the Watchtower Society’s translation of educational resources is to be praised, what is being translated and the messages that are being conveyed to young children need to be put under the spotlight.

More details can be found here

Millennium goal 2 – Education – Fact sheet Link

Translation of materials – Link

Education Department Philippines Link

Making Education a Priority in the Post 2015 Development Agenda Link


About Susannah

"Susannah," JWReport's News and Opinion Editor, is very familiar with the Watchtower Society and its leaders past and present. An experienced editor and writer, she was born and raised in the UK where she was an active Jehovah's Witness until she was 28. She now lives and works in southern Europe.

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