Education: how big a factor it REALLY is to Philippine national development

Making headline news today and filling the columns of the opinion sections of mainstream media are laments (both factual and opined) on the derelict state of Philippine education. According to the Philippines’ Department of Education (DepEd), 27.5 million elementary and high school students marched into schools last Monday. That’s more than the population of Australia out in full force — not to work where they will contribute to the growth of the economy but (for the vast majority of them) to tax-funded institutions of learning where they will be sucking in precious pesos. Filipino taxpayers are, in effect, funding the education of a population of dependents the size of Australia.

But what exactly do these young Filipinos see coming out of all this funding coming from state coffers?

Not much. In one school in Manila, up to 100 students are crammed into each classroom. At the Batasan Hills National High School, only 72 classrooms are available for its 13,000 students.

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For its big school population, classes had to be conducted in two shifts. The first shift runs from 6 a.m. until 1 p.m., and the second at 1 p.m. until 8 p.m.

The school’s principal, Dr. Gil Magbanua, said they can only do so much with so little that they have.

Classroom population ranges between 80 to 100 students, with half of that number seated on the floor or standing beside the wall at the end of the classroom.

Magbanua said that even if there are enough tablet arm chairs, it’s physically not possible to put it inside the classroom for 90 students.


At a classroom for first-year high school students, only half of the students were seated. The other half were on the floor.

With 90 students, students had a hard time hearing what their teachers were saying.

It is indeed a big problem. There are millions of Filipinos who demand an education and there are not enough facilities to meet this demand. But then let us take a look at the other end of this rusty pipeline of Filipino intellectual talent. Some estimates put the number of graduates of that quintessential favourite undergraduate course of the Filipino — nursing — at more than 90,000 every year. And according to the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), there are 187,000 Filipino nurses who are unemployed today. So bad is this oversupply that many of them are willing to pay hospitals to employ them

Pathetic how Filipino nurses now have to pay in order to get work experience. That indeed is one for the books — to have to pay an employer for the privilege to work for him. It’s a kind of below-zero negative unemployment (unemployed na nga, negative pa). Whereas the Philippines is already known for its dirt cheap labour, it now has the distinction of being a country where negative wages are paid!

It’d be hilarious if it weren’t so poignant.

True to the renowned “ingenuity” of the Filipino entrepreneur, this bizarre arrangement of employees paying their employers goes by the euphemism “training program” — as in Philippine hospitals offer on-the-job training programs that newly-graduated nursing students can avail of if they pay said hospital “training fees”.

The Philippines, it seems, is being banged both ways — a paradoxical situation where an excess of demand pushes its way in on one end and an excess of supply gushes out the other. Even among the elite among the almost 2 million Filipinos who enter the system every year as kindergarten students — those who manage to come out the other end of the system as college graduates — numbers are so immense that jobs they are clearly overqualified for (bank tellers, clerks, and even fast food restaurant servers) are able to require that their applicants hold college degrees.

Maybe it could be a simple issue of how much Filipinos really want to succeed to global standards or how content they are with their lot in life. Indeed, in a brilliant parable of how capital came to be amassed by one sector of humanity while the other remained doomed to desperately scrounge around for it for most of their subsequent histories, I postulated two key economic classes of people defined primarily by how their absorbtive capacity for capital is determined by cultural wiring. I gave the terms Wantists and Contentists to these two classes of people and I wrote their hypothetical story way way back in the early days.

Even back then, the story led to an ending made uncanny by how closely it mirrors the untentable situation Filipinos find themselves in in today’s world…

The Contentists readily embraced the fruits of the Wantists’ capital and their consumption rates and populations increased to levels that their immediate natural environments could no longer sustain without artificial influence — influence that is enabled by capital. Unfortunately, many Contentist societies failed to appreciate and embrace the means to create this capital indigenously at a scale required to sustain the levels of consumption and population that they have grown accustomed to. The Contentists became dependent on the Wantists for this capital because they had grown accustomed to the standards of living that the Wantists’ capital afforded them.

The Contentists soon came to resent this dependency and sought a political solution to rectifying what to them was an unacceptable state of affairs. This political solution became a popular solution among the Contentist peoples. It involved removal of the the Wantists’ political influence over the Contentists’ people. Those that succeeded then proceeded to declare their respective nationhoods using the principles of nationhood that the Wantists taught them.

However, since the political approach did not address the true issue which was a dependency on the Wantists’ capital, the people of many Contentist nations are now less happy than they were before they came in contact with the Wantists.

And that is why Filipinos rely on foreign-originated capital to employ them — because they continuously fail to build domestic capacity to do the same. The underlying factors I had spelt out in that story back then still ring true and relevant today:

– weak predisposition to control the environment (we are in Homo Sapiens’ natural habitat and can survive naked without artificial aid);

– no culture of saving and accumulating surpluses for the winter (our climate stays the same all year round);

– no value placed on large-scale interdependencies and co-existence (tribal units are enough to sustain hunter-gatherer or subsistence economies); and,

– beholdenness to personalities rather than institutions (tribal units are simple enough to run on the pesonal whims of its leaders).

So is education as big a factor as it is made out to be as far as our prospects of mounting a successful, sustainable, and capital-driven development campaign?

To answer that question, consider that favourite excuse of how Philippine education churns out too many potential employees and too few potential entrepreneurs (at least those of the sort that create employment). If we consider how a significant portion of the indigenous capital base of the Philippine economy is accounted for by the handiwork of generations of Chinese immigrants who had little education, little command over the languages of the natives, and little social status to work with when they first got started building their fortunes, that theory falls flat in its face.

And so there is that one thing — the elephant in the room — that all the headscratching of our society’s supposedly greatest minds tiptoe around:

Filipino culture.

All roads in the Philippine National “Debate” lead to it.

A sad, but inescapable reality.

Social commentator Ben Kritz summed up a previous article of mine that explores aspects of the Filipino’s dismal performance in the game of exploiting any form of capital using just two words: absorptive capacity.

Just like the possibility that we may lack the cultural absorptive capacity to make the most of financial capital, perhaps we may also lack the chops to make the most of that other more fundamental form of capital — intellectual capital in the form of education. Indeed, some insight on that possibility could be gleaned from this except coming from some fan mail I got back in 2003 (which I featured in my book):

I enjoyed the company of Filipinos for their humor and the reminiscent qualities I’ve lost touch of. I realized I don’t want the other qualities I associate with my people. I view Filipinos as [de]void of any intellectual enjoyment. I like reading philosophical books that are stimulating, but the people I know and see lack any commitment to any intellectual pursuits. This is not to be patronizing, but there seems to be a limit [to] which some Filipinos apply themselves intellectually. I have yet to encounter one who has taken interest in any cerebral activities, it seems as though they have no inclination towards art, humanities or education in general. As a result, I see Filipinos as irrational and illogical. Any argument on any issue … is either avoided or seen as an attack on their ego. I find a more stimulating conversation with individuals from other ethnic groups.

* * *

What follows was written by Alan M. Turing, one of the fathers of the information age, in his seminal paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” …

Instead of trying to produce a programme to simulate the adult mind, why not rather try to produce one which simulates the child’s? If this were then subjected to an appropriate course of education one would obtain the adult brain. Presumably the child-brain is something like a note-book as one buys it from the stationers. Rather little mechanism, and lots of blank sheets. (Mechanism and writing are from our point of view almost synonymous.) Our hope is that there is so little mechanism in the child-brain that something like it can be easily programmed. The amount of work in the education we can assume, as a first approximation, to be much the same as for the human child.

Perhaps the key to understanding why Filipinos fail lies in the mind of the Filipino child — the input into this “education system” that we keep blaming for our chronic impoverishment.

4 Replies to “Education: how big a factor it REALLY is to Philippine national development”

  1. Noynoy Aquino wants us to be uneducated; so that his Hacienda Luisita Mafia, will continue to hold the economy of the country…anyway people will be educated by watching the telenovelas on the ABS-CBN Network…
    Everything is not working in our country…we need a SuperHuman President to solve our problems…and we have an imbecile President…what can we expect…more nonsense…

    1. … what? No – why do you people always assign malevolence to an admittedly incompetent president? Kulang na lang, kung umulan bigla at nabasa ang suot mo, you’ll melodramatically raise your fist to a seething sky and curse Noynoy for his apparent malediction on your taste of dress! I don’t understand why he has to be blamed on something as long-standing a headache as Philippine education. =/

  2. Our schools are programmed to produce slaves.

    And how do you expect ordinary pinoys to put up businesses when the law favors the rich and well-established most of the time?

    1. I would expect them to develop the method of class action lawsuits that holds the principle of hiring family, friends and favorites is punitive to those who can show more capability for the same jobs. Rather the way equal employment was assured to Americans. This assumes there are capable Filipinos. And aggressive ones. And ambitious ones.

      I tend to agree with benigno and Ben K, the educational system generates a lot of mush and little steak and potatoes, or even humba.

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