Harvey Keh talks about his work as the Founder and former Executive Director of Pathways to Higher Education, an organization that aims to help marginalized students gain access to quality higher education in the Philippines. Harvey is a fellow of Asia Society's Asia 21 Young Leaders Initiative.
How did you become interested in this issue, and how do you stay inspired?
I got interested when I experienced for myself the kind of education that the public schools here give to its students. I felt that there are so many talented Filipino students that it would be a waste if we didn’t do anything about it. Moreover, I have always lived by the principle that, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” Thus, I felt it was my duty and responsibility to share the excellent education I received studying in top notch private institutions to the less privileged.
I stay inspired when I see the fruits of my labor, when I see a very poor student whom we are able to help finish college at a good school then I realize that I made a small difference in this world already.
What are some of the barriers to a quality education for young people in the Philippines?
The biggest barrier to many young people here in the Philippines is poverty. Many students are unable to finish education because they do not have enough resources that will enable them to go to school and receive a decent education. Moreover, due to poverty, many students are forced to drop out and forced to work by their parents.
Aside from this, the quality of education continues to deteriorate here in the Philippines since the government does not put priority in improving our public school system. Oftentimes, you have more than 70 students in one classroom and students may even have to share a set of textbooks with at least 4 of his or her classmates.
What role do parents and communities currently play in education in the Philippines, and how would you like to see them more involved?
Parents and the community play a very important role in the education of students here. Studies have consistently shown that students who have been actively supported by his or her parents and the community will perform and learn better. We need to be able to show the community that they also should play a more proactive role in helping improve the quality of public schools that we have.
Moreover, we have to actively engage parents to let them know that they cannot just rely on teachers and the school to educate their children. They should play a more active role in ensuring that their children are able to read, write and do arithmetic correctly and at the same time show their children that they support them in their education.
How can you make sure that student voices are heard on this issue and that their needs and ideas are integrated into education reform?
There are many means right now where students can make themselves heard on these issues. One of which is through the internet where online groups discuss problems that need to be addressed. Another is by organizing forums where students can air out their grievances and their views on certain issues. Finally, students can also engage media by writing letters to the editors or taking part in youth oriented talk shows that discuss pertinent issues concerning the youth today.
Many people experience or observe injustice and may not know how to act. How have you made the leap from personally caring about something to building a successful career working on that issue?
I think the first step is to immerse ourselves in the issue first. You cannot just come into an issue or a community and pretend that you know everything and you know how to address all their problems. You need to take time out to dialogue with stakeholders and the people that you intend to help.
Also, you have to understand your motivations well, ask yourself why are you doing this and why do you want to do this. Many people do good work just to get famous and I feel that is something that will not be able to sustain someone who works in the non-profit sector.
I was able to make that leap through the help of mentors and people who believed in my cause and in my leadership. Without these people I feel that I wouldn’t be able to scale up my reforms that easily. Being a good leader you need to be able to understand that you don’t know everything and that there is so much to learn from in this world through the help of other people.
I’ve always believed that education is the greatest key in solving poverty and in solving many of the world’s problems. For high school students, just make sure that you value your education and learn to share this with others who need it. Finally, even if you are still young always remember that it’s never too soon to start changing the world. Good luck!