Will Ateneo- or UP-standard education make Filipinos a more progressive people? Think again.

The idea that substandard education is the reason why Filipinos are not progressing as a people is starting to wear thin. Granted, of course, there is a massive investment gap that keeps the Philippines’ public education system (within which the vast majority of Filipinos are educated) decrepit and practically ineffective at churning out smarter people. It is this “fact” of the anemic funding suffered by education in the Philippines that leads to the hasty conclusion that Filipinos remain poor because they “lack education”.

So let’s test that idea for a moment by focusing on the tiny subset of Filipinos that enjoy “world-class” education — Ateneans and alumni of the University of the Philippines (UP), presumably. So how many Ateneans and UP alumni do you see out there inventing the proverbial “longer-lasting light bulb”? How many Ateneans and Iskolars have or are in the process of building enterprises and brands that have the potential of eating the lunches of the likes of Samsung, Apple, or Toyota someday?

The trouble with the Filipino mindset is that we are ingrained with life goals predominantly framed by employment opportunities. The Philippines, as such, is a nation of employees and education is seen primarily to be a means to such a basic end. Not having a “good” education is regarded as a pretty good excuse for ending up a loser in the Philippines and that idea is what fuels the rhetoric of Filipino “activists” and apologists of Pinoy Dysfunction.

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It also does not help that “activists” who take it upon themselves to “Defend UP” (specifically its role as a space for free inquiry that is “safe” from state forces) are propagating the idea that the primary value that UP, the Ateneo, and other excellent schools contribute to the collective intellect of the Philippines is “dissent” against the state. This is so wrong at so many levels because it is framed by a small subset of the intellectual capital created within the Philippines’ academic community. Most of these “activists”, after all view the world of opportunity to progress from the lens of “social justice” and the other usual fodder for their “activism” like “human rights”, “freedom”, and “equality” — stuff taken up in more of the humanities and social sciences fields.

The landscape of academic achievement, however, is bigger than these “activists” likely appreciate. Academic achievement goes beyond the social sciences and humanities fields that frame traditional “activism”. There are the so-called hard sciences — technology, engineering, and maths — that deliver the far more tangible foundations of human advancement. Whether a society is “good” or “evil” in the sense that traditional “activists” regard these terms, it is societies with strong traditions of achievement in the hard stuff that set themselves apart from all the rest. We are talking about societies that achieve great things — cure diseases, win mechanised wars, automate labor-intensive low value work, change and disrupt entire ways of life with sexy devices, build awesome public works, and, yes, invent longer-lasting lightbulbs. You need quiet achievers who are able to do the hard thinking to achieve those things and less of the shrill noisy “thought leaders” that do nothing but take students away from their books and classrooms and march them onto Manila’s steaming streets to wave placards with “social justice” clichĂ©s written on them.

Has the Ateneo and UP given sufficient profile and cultural capital to the earlier — the quiet achievers who study and do the really hard stuff that contribute tangible stuff to the country’s economic, industrial, military, and technological power? If all we get is the sound of crickets in response to that question, then the call to action becomes a lot more clear to Filipinos. Investment in education needs to be more specific — more on the hard sciences and less on the Mickey Mouse stuff that fuel the Philippines’ lame “activism”.

The last sorts of people Filipinos need are the sorts of shrieking amigas who routinely hijack their political rhetoric and make it hard for those who want to build tangible things that make real differences to ordinary Filipino lives to get a word in. It’s time we give a voice to the latter when talking about how important education is to building a society with a strong traditionl of excellence and tangible achievement.

22 Replies to “Will Ateneo- or UP-standard education make Filipinos a more progressive people? Think again.”

  1. When it comes to investing in education: Humanities and social sciences are just as important as (hard) natural, formal and applied sciences.
    If there is truly an abundance of nurses, etc. in the country then the reason cannot be because of investing too much in educating nurses, it must be because of high demand among student applicants. I’m guessing the reason behind the demand is because it is the least academically challenging.
    Elementary, middle and high schools must be upgraded, so the youth gets more interested in math, etc.

    1. You can’t rely on the government to “upgrade” anything. There is too much corruption, etc for that to work. You have to allow the free market to change the education system. That is why a cram schools system (going to school after school) is one of the better ways to improve the population… But you have to make the barriers to entry very small because you can’t charge the average Filipino much to send their kid to cram school after school. But if the government wants ridiculous taxes/fees to open the school, the school will never open because the entrepreneur will never be able to recoup his investment…

      1. It’s not really a free market if there should be “barriers to entry very small”. But I understand what you mean. Isn’t there already cram schools in the country? I thought there were. Do you know what specific law should be changed before cram schools can exist?

  2. The problem with the education system in the Philippines is the lack of cram schools. All over Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and China are cram schools that kids go to every day after school to get a better education. That is why those countries have done well. Until the law changes (foreigner can own such a school or at least a foreigner can work in that type of school easily) and those schools become prevalent nothing will change.

  3. Did you know that physics used to be called natural philosophy?
    So there is a problem with education and innovation in the PH, which can’t be isolated from the socio political conditions. What then is the quality of education in the schools mentioned? If the writer can give some details then we would have a better idea.

    1. Physics was called “natural philosophy” at a time before it gained a solid mathematical foundation. There is nothing wrong with the quality of scientific/engineering content of the Philippines’ top universities. However, this content is under-represented in the national political discourse because the noisiest participants of that discourse frame everything within their lame “activism” of “social justice”, “freedom”, “dissent”, and “equality”.

      1. The fundamental premise didn’t change. The development of the ‘mathematical foundation’ is an extension. There must be something off with the focus of learning in those institutions for that to be the case. Their concerns must have some validity but are misdirected…

    2. It is not Benign0 who mentioned it. It is I, who proclaim that the quality of education in the whole country is too low… from elementaries to the top universities.
      It’s everything in the educational system that is poor…. from the teacher’s academic profession to materials like books, and even the huge number of pupils/students in one “classroom”. It all varies in degrees of how bad it is depending on how expensive the tuition/fee is.
      A side fact is that I personally studied in the country for awhile, so I have firsthand experience and seen insides of many schools.

      1. Is it an investment problem or strategy? A senator points to structural problems but none among them can give a clear picture of what’s wrong with Ph education…

        1. Personally I can clearly see it as an investment problem as I stated in my earlier post. And since I am also a leftist I rather see the gap between rich kids that can afford good education and those underpriviledged kids who cannot as a problem, so I also see it as a structural problem. The educational system must in my opinion be universal accessible. Which it definitely isn’t right now.

        2. I don’t see a good reason why universal access to education couldn’t be made possible. Somebody once said that people getting degrees would affect the demand-supply dynamics of jobs and salaries. He has a point but is the reasoning justifiable?

  4. Like I said before, the educated people are the likelier ones to become terrorists. Also, formal education here is equated with snobbishness and being far removed from the situation on the ground. Scholars are seen as rabid ideologists who want nothing more than to impose their ideas on the poor than actually offer practical help. Hence the idea of the Ivory Tower. Plus, people take formal education mainly to get high-paying jobs and not to offer help to the less fortunate in society. They’re more obsessed with making the most money while doing the least work. Thing is, that does not happen in reality, and many graduates are unable to find stable jobs. Formal education isn’t really a solution to poverty and is becoming less of a factor in upward mobility these days. It will still boil down to whether a person applies common sense in their lives and how they make or take advantage of economic opportunities using it.

    1. The probability that a wise person would make a wise decision is very high. Unlike an unwise person where the person only thinks that the decision is wise but is factually not, is also very high.
      A good educational system will produce a wiser people. A people that will make wise decision in life. Whether it’ll be in politics, economics, life, etc.
      How can a people, who once thought that the main stationary tower PC was called the CPU, or once thought that a laser printer didn’t need to have the cartridge replaced once in awhile, become wiser?!!
      Common sense and how to make or take economic opportunities does not appear out of nothing. People can only make or take advantage of economic opportunities if they are wise enough to know when and how to make or take it.
      ChinoF, Like I said before you are pro-status quo. It’s sad that you want more of the same.

      1. The formal education system is messy here for many reasons. But it’s not the only thing to fix. Common sense is more a product of the family and home environment than anything else, and that is what needs fixing first. The students listen less to advice from teachers and more from friends and family outside.

        1. You say that that is what needs fixing first. But how can that be fixed?

          Don’t you agree that one of the prerequisites of a wise advice is knowledge. And how can people get knowledge?! Through education. So it really boggles my mind the reason for you to disparaging education or disparaging educated people. Yes, some people are arrogant, but that’s just a small biproduct of an educated people compared to the positive sides of it.

        2. Knowledge through education? That brings us back to what I raised, what kind of education? As I said, classroom and formal education aren’t that effective. Schools are mainly treated as diploma mills, and it does not ensure that the graduates are well-equipped for the world, much less equipped to “change the world.” Again it goes back to the family, and what’s the main education source for that? Mass media and groundroots word-of-mouth. Businesses actually are the biggest influencers of education, for example, in how they made cereal a staple of breakfast, or how another company promoted the heavy breakfast to push their products with. Schools are only sources of bubbles for people who do mostly mental gymnastics.

        3. ChinoF, your arguments presumes that the educational system cannot be changed. Your posts are becoming increasingly moot : )

  5. Why waste your time inventing things, when you can get rich being a politician ?

    This is the reason, we have an over supply of politicians, who do nothing but talk , and steal from the National Treasury. They steal from : DAP, PDAF, and Pork Barrels.

    See, how may of our politicians, who started, with no money, and became multi millionaires.

    So, we have Porky Drilions, who are as voracious as swines to steal our taxpayers’ money !

    1. One of the reasons for these corrupt politicians is the mindset of arrogance or snobbishness. When life becomes a normality with the mottos: “A real man creates his own luck”, “Everyone is the architect of his own fortune”, and “Life is what you make of it”. When everyone is for himself and not thinking for the greater good of the country.
      This is the basis for the right-wing mentality. Unlike the left-wing mentality where “the greater good of the country” is eminent.

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