What sort of regard do Filipinos have for education anyway?

At least once in their lives, Filipino sons and daughters will receive this piece of “advice” from their parents:

“Study hard so that you’ll get good grades. If you get good grades, you’ll get a good job. If you get a good job, you’ll be able to support your family…”

In short, they tell you to go get an education in order for you to get a better life (or actually, to give your parents a better life). Parents here in the Philippines generally do everything they can to make sure that their children are able to finish as much school as possible, so much so that it will cost them an arm and a leg to finance it (sometimes even literally). It seems, however, that they put emphasis on education so that their children can “help them” (from another perspective, the parents are being entirely dependent on them), rather than getting education so that the kids can live up to their fullest potential, do what they want to do, and so that they can live their own dreams.

Who can blame them; the hardship of life and the abundance of poverty in the Philippines severely restrict options for majority of its population.

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Undeniably, the pressure to be “educated” in the Philippines is severe. The term “walang pinag-aralan (uneducated)” is considered a pejorative one, and carries with it a lot of social stigma. There are many other Filipino words used to indicate people who are less educated; they will loosely translate to idiot: bobo, inutil, and tanga, to name a few. Even the phrase “di nakapagtapos” (unable to finish school) invites its share of shame and ridicule, even if due to circumstances beyond one’s control.

A university degree is absolutely necessary to get almost any job here. If you don’t have one, your chances of getting paid employment become close to nil.

This need to show credentials and proof of education has driven a certain part of the population to “embellish” their background and to have documents “prepared” just so that they have something to show. This also leads many to take courses that are considered “practical” or “easy” or “cheap”, but not necessarily the ones that they want, just to say that they finished something. Pwede na iyan, para lang masabing nakapagtapos.

Credentials. Filipinos are obsessed with and can’t get enough of them; they chase after suffixes and prefixes to attach to their names like Wile E. Coyote chases after the Road Runner. The more “credentials” one has, the more one is considered to be “honorable” or “respectable”. Filipinos crave the respect (or is it attention) that credentials bring, but whether or not they can back up such credentials with actual wisdom, knowledge, pragmatism, and experience is another story altogether.

Despite such inordinate obsession with credentials, titles, and finishing school, however, it seems that no amount of it will ever solve the Filipino condition. What is present in Filipino society is a cerebral and intellectual black hole – it sucks and pulls down what’s in its vicinity, and nothing or no one ever escapes from it.


No amount of education, it seems, can save the Filipino from his boorishness. In their society, the loudest, most flamboyant, the most aggressive, the most arrogant, and the “toughest” guys always win. Yet hardly is there any correlation between being loud, flamboyant, aggressive, arrogant, and tough with being the most logically sound and the most rational.

Ask Liberal Party candidate Mar Roxas how it felt like being dragged into an exchange of physical challenges with Davao city mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Would you accept Secretary Butch Abad’s explanation as to why Mar “had to respond the way he did”, that Mar risked looking flimsy or like a wimp if he didn’t respond to Duterte’s allegations? Rather than use what he has learned with his Wharton degree (whichever it actually is) to elevate the debate and present himself as being the more able and deserving candidate, he instead chose the route of stupid to level himself with the siga-siga (tough guy) and balasubas provocation style of the mayor, an area where he could not possibly win. Keep in mind though, that Mar is perceived to have fired the first shot by claiming that Davao’s safety is a myth. Unfortunately for him, he lost his cool, could not keep the discussion on point, and wound up saying “let’s level up”, something that is perceivably akin to “waving the white flag.”

From a certain perspective, who could blame Mar? Filipinos respond to personalities more readily than they do to issues and ideas. He looks seemingly desperate to do anything that will gain him positive attention, to give him an image of a tough guy. Unfortunately, however, like many of his other public relations (PR) gimmicks, it has resulted only in more ridicule for him, for the simple reason that people find it inauthentic.

If you think, however, that Mar Roxas is the only one capable of brain farts, Rodrigo Duterte is too. A report in the Philippine Star indicates: Duterte said that he wants “Algebra, Calculus, and Trigonometry replaced with Business Math.”

If elected president, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte wants Algebra, Calculus and Trigonometry removed from the education curriculum and replaced with Business Mathematics.

Duterte said Business Mathematics is a practical subject, noting most Filipinos suffer from Math anxiety like he does.

He admitted he got a failing grade in Economics.

“Yung Calculus alisin ko talaga yan. Dumaan kayo ng high school, ano ang natutunan niyo sa Calculus, Trigonometry? Yang Algebra palitan mo na yan ng Business Math (I would have Calculus taken out. What have you learned in Calculus and Trigonometry during high school? Let’s replace Algebra with Business Math),” Duterte said during a thanksgiving dinner at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City.

Duterte said learning unnecessary numbers and signs in Mathematics does not serve any useful purpose.

“You know there are crazy things. It does not serve the purpose at all. Pinapahirapan lang ang mga bata (you just make it hard for the kids), Business Math and Statistics, pwede pa,” he said.

If someone is going to tell me that he is just being his usual trolling self, then why should I take him seriously as a candidate? If someone is going to tell me that we should learn to discern jokes from serious comments, then perhaps his run for the presidency is just yet another one of his jokes. If someone is going to tell me that he was taken out of context, then perhaps he or someone else associated with him should have provided the context and the full details and schematics of his “plan”. (As of this writing, we’re still waiting. I’m assuming he has thought things through and has one. Otherwise, he’s just spouting empty words, not much different from politicians past.)

To echo the words of GRP writer Ilda, just because Duterte wasn’t good in these subjects doesn’t mean others can’t handle it.

Mr. Duterte, may we in the engineering and scientific community remind you, that Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus form the foundation for your so-called Business Math and Statistics, and the entire engineering and scientific body of knowledge. They are all interconnected. Science, technology, and engineering are vital to the development of a nation. How can people calculate the time value of money if they don’t know their trigonometry? How can people do the precise calculations needed to make infrastructure and machines work if people don’t know how to derive the complex formulae? How can one monitor the rate of changes of real-life systems if he/she doesn’t know his/her calculus? How can statistics work be done without knowledge of basic mathematical operations?

Duterte may not have meant to do so, but he came across as either ignorant or contributory to the sentiment of anti-intellectualism that is already prevalent in this country. He might have wanted to be practical, but he inadvertently wound up promoting dumbness and intellectual laziness instead. Hardly any different from the current crop of politicians in power now.

Perhaps there is a silver lining to Duterte’s “shocking” statement. It is time to review the way mathematics is taught here. As I mentioned above, mathematics is the foundation for literally every other field of scientific study. Even if you’re not in the science, technology, or engineering communities, you still need to use mathematics in your everyday life. Building a solid foundation in math requires an iron grasp of the basic concepts and the ability to learn how to apply them in various situations. It unfortunately involves a degree of memorization, and yes, it is actually a bit boring.

That seems to be what the educational system here in the Philippines focuses inordinately on: rote memorization. Students are taught processes but are rarely taught the logic and concepts behind them. They go through calculation and motions without understanding why they do. They are spoon-fed solutions and formulas that are already derived.

In the rare cases that Filipino students are taught the basic concepts well, instructors still have to contend with certain students’ sense of entitlement and an inability to think outside their comfort zones.

The above is a behavior that derives from the Filipino cultural dysfunction of promoting dumb.

It is a system that produces useful automatons. People are trained what to think and not how to think. Filipino students should get more training on logic, critical thinking and analysis, and problem solving. As early as possible.

Sad to say, however, that no amount of education can even make a dent in the collective intellectual laziness and disdain for learning that Filipinos collectively have.

If you want to help Filipinos and share your knowledge, wisdom, and experience, you will usually be met with reactions like: “why don’t you run for government office if you know so much”, or “who do you think you are acting smarter than us”, or “that won’t work here”. Consider yourself lucky if Filipinos don’t start spreading vile and most likely untrue rumors about you for knowing something that they don’t, which makes them “look bad” and makes them feel “disadvantaged” or “victimized”, and because you aren’t in solidarity with them (hindi ka nakisama, sa kabobohan nila).

The appalling, cavalier attitude that Filipinos apply to their development applies to their regard for education: not really necessary, let someone else do it, spoon-feed us.

Do you still expect Filipinos to start appreciating the need for better education so that they can live to their fullest potential, improve their lives and their work, and make better and more informed decisions anytime soon?

Don’t hold your breath.

[Photo courtesy: imagesbot.com]

15 Replies to “What sort of regard do Filipinos have for education anyway?”

  1. We don’t need those subjects…most of us will end up as OFW slaves , anyway. Why not put a subject named: “The Art of Pleasing your Foreign Master”. Subjects about: cooking; Mopping the Floor; Washing Dishes; Cleaning the Toilets, etc…Learning to read and write in Arabic; or any foreign language is also needed; etc…

    I met a Filipina, with a degree in B.S. Elementary Education. She used to be a teacher, in the Philippines. She migrated here in the U.S. Now, she works as a Nanny.Some graduate nurses, became nurses aides. Filipino doctors become nurses or nurses aides. Engineers become factory workers.

    Study what is important to earn a living.

    1. u said it right……u can;t do math when your cleaning toilets in other countries…or digging sand in the middleast…I hope the author of this article goes down from his cloud nine view and be more pragmatic.

  2. The Spanish made the Filipinos servants… Americans made them employees… the Chinese might make them slaves again like the datus did.

    Education in the Philippines is not about understanding anything or really applying the knowledge except for mindless routines…

    Christianity is not truly practiced… democracy is about debating details of the 1987 Constitution… no real sense of stuff… the “Pedro and Joe” part of this article shows how little is understood… much less applied: http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/reconstitute-the-philippines/

  3. In my 39 years in Australia, I have met highly educated Filipinas who had backgrounds in accounting and nursing, and one who graduated from UST. All were quite successful except the one with the nursing background, whose qualifications were not recognized and had to do it all over again, but who was married to an aspiring doctor.
    It seemed like they were playing against a stacked deck but it only served to make them persevere all the more.
    It’s not mere education that’s the key – it’s the values and hope that go with it.
    Ignorance does nobody any good.

  4. I remember, when you are a good memorizer, you can be a top student. Just facts and not how to sharpen ones mind: analysation, experimentation. It didn’t enhance the students skills that they could use in creating a job not just finding. That Calculus and Algebra were the exceptions and wanting to remove it? No, no, just add teaching the students to ready in real life, such how to get job and to learn our laws.

  5. I would say Duterte made two fatal assumptions:
    1. Algebra, trigo and calculus are not used in “business math”
    2. That business math is not already being taught in school.

    I wonder if anyone can ask Duterte the question, just what is “business math” to him?

    I would also quote this from commenter Lemnemonic on my article about The Problem with Filipino views about English Speakers in a comment:

    “Oh my goodness yes! I will be starting college next Monday, gonna get that BS Biology degree and then an MS in Molecular Biology (DNA and shit) and move on to either RnD in the industry or teaching.

    The most common response I get from people when I explain my career plans to them is extreme confusion. They often tell me that, since I was “matalino”, I should have taken engineering instead, or just move on to medicine. I ask them why, they answer “pera”.

    Apparently they don’t realize the high demand for geneticist/molecular biologist and that you don’t just get a diploma from university-dispensers and proceed to devote your entire adult life to getting money. (and if you do, you will fail)

    It’s just a massive dysfunction in society that you learn just to get rich. Personally I feel insulted. It feels like I just wasted my growing up years in preparing my adult life to be wasted.”

    But FallenAngel summed it up above. How Filipinos regard education is that it is used to train the breadwinners that they will depend on.

    I hope Lemnemonic continued with her intended path and ignored the stupid comments of people around her.

    1. From my limited understanding, geneticists/molecular biologists still earn top dollar. I mean, you’re delving into the sciences after all. Of course, if you’re planning to stay in the Philippines with your current career path then you’re very limited as to what you can do there. Once you get the degrees, then look for international organizations that will value your talent. GTFO the country if you have to.

      1. I am currently 18 years old and in my first year in college of BS accountancy. I also plan to move after 6 years passes by. Can’t wait to be 24 already…any suggestions you might like to give me?

  6. I do not agree that Algebra, Trigonometry, and Calculus be removed or replaced because there is a use for them though not for everyone. I took a 2 year vocational course and I never had any need for Calculus. Business Math for me was more of learning how to count how much money I had and how much change I had coming to me.

    I just want to take issue with the opening of your post. You made a generalization that parents do everything for their kid’s education so that the kids can help their parent’s in their old age. That is not entirely true and is a degrading statement for all parents. It would have been better if you said, “some.”

    By the way, your opening had nothing to do with the main topic of your post (Duterte’s statement regarding Math).

  7. “What sort of regard do Filipinos have for education anyway?” The short answer is ‘none whatsoever’. To put a bit of context in this rather sweeping answer, I’d just say that where the beasts of burden.. the parents.. are concerned, the ‘sheepskin’ on the wall is what it’s all about. It is for the bragging rights, mostly. For the student-son or student-daughter, it’s about the ‘barkada’, peer pressure, and the need to go with the tide.. to be ‘in’ rather than ‘out’. “Education’ for knowledge’ sake.. at worst.. is farthest from the students’ mind; at best, it is just to secure credentials for future employment, while at the same time, ensuring the parents’ bragging rights.

    To be fair, this scenario is not entirely true. But to say that it is only predominantly true is just cold comfort. This predicament makes the more thoughtful among us worry and concerned about the quality of teachers, the real aim of the schools, and the sincerity of the government’s regard for the youth. The vast majority, however, is content in just getting by.. oblivious of the inevitable dire destination.

    Are we seeing “ignorance” finally taking hold?

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