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Philippine Education: Left Behind

July 30, 2007

(Note: published as feature story on September, 2006)

What will happen to kids like her?

What will happen to kids like her?

For most of our history, Filipinos didn’t care much about education. Our
predecessors focused much on politics and so our present political leaders. From the post-war period up to the end of Marcos regime, our country has had enough politics, politics and politics.

Even after the restoration of democracy in 1986, the yellow government of former President Corazon Aquino dealt with coup de etats, unprecedented power interruptions, shaky political situation and again, politics. The widow of our Martial Law hero, the late Benigno Aquino, busied herself recovering the cronies-owned companies and corporations and gave them back to their rightful owners. The yellow era saw the return of old elites, as Mrs. Aquino played the role of Santa Claus to the country’s oligarchs like the Lopezes who regained ABS-CBN and other businesses.
Aquino’s successor, her military man, Fidel V. Ramos, put much of his attention in the military, his forte, and economy. With his Tiger RP vision, Ramos pushed the country in the direction of privatization and made his regime known for his Expo-Filipino scandal. Again, politics.
The term of disgraced former Pres. Joseph Estrada was said to have been spent in late night casinos with his midnight cabinet pals. His three-year stay in power was exhausted in his struggle against corruption charges, extra-marital peccadilloes, bourgeoisie houses, and Jueteng accusations that were all ripened into an impeachment complaint.
After his fall, Estrada’s successor, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who conquered the Malacañang Palace through the Pasig River, confronted not only Jueteng scandal, but also election-rigging accusations found in the “Hello Garci” tapes.
In her latest State of the Nation Address, Arroyo only mentioned the word education five times. She then introduced her ‘ladderized program of education.”
There’s no need to go over the pages of our history to confirm whether our predecessors performed their tasks well.
Suffice it to say that the country’s status quo reflects the system of education that we have today, and perhaps, confirms that our precursors failed in building a better future for their offspring.

Lack of political will
The latest standoff between the legislature and the officials of the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) on Sept. 18, 2006 at the Batasang Pambansa only proved that our educational system is not only obsolete and faulty, but rotten and sullied as well.
The Committee on Higher and Technical Education (CHTE) has been conducting an inquiry in aid of legislation into the failure of the CHEd in performing its duties, and into some practices of private schools, colleges and universities (SCU) that direly affect the students.
In the Philippines, when we speak of education, we also speak of money.
The Congress created the CHEd by virtue of Republic Act 7722, otherwise known as Higher Education Act of 1994, to simply promote and protect of welfare of the students. It also enacted R.A. 6728, otherwise known as the Gatspe law (Government Assistance to Students and Teachers in Private Education Act), “to promote and make quality education accessible to all Filipino citizens.”
During the meeting, it was learned that the CHEd failed to look into the irregular practices of most of SCUs in imposing/collecting fees from the students and in distributing the 70-20 percent tuition fee increments to the school faculty and employees.
The education officials initially presented conflicting figures as to the list of schools that applied for TFI, and asked for enough time to define the very controversial terms ‘tuition fees’ and ‘miscellaneous fees.’

Political Intervention
It was also learned that some lucky house representatives, 185 to be exact who are all allies of Mrs. Arroyo, enjoy the so-called Emergency Financial Assistance to Students (EFAST), and all of them received P1 million each from the Department of Budget and Management. Some of the recipients, however, defended that the scholarship fund, which will only run for one year, is intended to assist graduating students who can no longer afford to pay their school fees.
But speculations arose that the EFAST was used as a payoff to legislators who killed the impeachment case, as opposition lawmakers said they were not aware of the existence of the scholarship fund.
Again the issue of politization or political intervention sprouted.
What is more dismal is when people in the government see the education sector as a means of securing their power, and of serving their own interests. Well, they must be so conscious that election period is just a few months away.
A couple of years ago, the CHEd then chaired by Fr. Rolando de la Rosa had a squabble with the Malacañang Palace over the case of AMA. The CHEd disallowed the computer school to offer its nursing program for not complying with the primary requirement, a tertiary-based hospital. But then the Malacañang Palace came to the rescue and let AMA offer nursing despite the CHEd’s order.
The Malacañang’s political intervention undermined the independence of the CHEd and its duty in doing its job free from any interference.
The AMA issue showed that the school owners, the Aguiluzes, were above the law, and that it gave the education officials a notice that there’s only one boss – no less than the one sitting in the Malacañang Palace.

We are left behind in Asia
Imagine the country 10 years from now. Perhaps you may think of a more advanced Philippines, more matured people, more dynamic educational system, and more honest and concerned political leaders. On the other hand, you may think of a downtrodden people, worse country dominated by a very few elites, a backward and rotten educational system, dejected and hopeless students who dream of leaving their motherland, and never-ending social apathy and political bickering.
It is the first that we look forward to, and the second that we reject. But working on the development of this nation is not akin to choosing between a good weapon and a bad one.
An effective and functional educational system defines the future of a nation. It must be understood that industrialized countries nowadays largely invest in education, as they realized the need to develop their young folks by giving them quality and efficient edification.
The city-state Singapore may be too small compared to the Philippines, but it has both a dragon economy and an envied educational system. Thailand that used to send its people here to study agriculture has now grown into an industrialized country. South Koreans now come to our land to see our beaches and learn English. The Chinese now also scramble to learn English, the lingua franca in the global trade or village.
Japan, on the other hand, had incorporated technology in its educational system. That’s why it’s no surprise that at the very young age, Japanese can repair a broken toy, or other busted simple gadgets without any difficulty.

Corruption
The government’s allocation on educational budget is considered meager compared to the budget of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). For most of our history, the military can be considered the darling of all our past presidents.
Perhaps to remain in power, the Arroyo government pampered the military, specially the top brass of the AFP. While more and more students cannot afford the skyrocketing prices of education, most military and public officials are getting richer everyday. One of the aspects that affect our growth in terms of education is the large-scale corruption in and out of the government. Trillions of pesos went to corruption for the past years.
The government estimates that at least P17 billion a year in financial assistance is required to boost up college education, faculty training and modernization of school facilities. The Department of Education (DepEd) says that despite its P119-billion budget, it still needs at least P10-billion to bring its operations to global standards.
Apart from corruption, one thing that decelerates the delivery of efficient and quality education, particularly for public schools, is the lack of political will of and cover-up among our political leaders.
At the start of classes, Pres. Arroyo chided DepEd Usec. Fe Hidalgo for telling the media the country still lacked over 6,000 classrooms to accommodate the increasing number of students in public schools. Arroyo’s gesture only proved that the government was not brave enough to let the people know about the state of education these days, since it is her duty to inform them of what’s going on in the territory. Instead, she said that after all, there was no classroom shortage in the country because of the two-shift system that allows morning and afternoon classes to accommodate increased in the number of public school students.
Apparently, the Arroyo government is reluctant to spend more money for the construction of schools considering that it stomached allotting P780-million fertilizer fund before the last elections to be used as payoffs to some lucky congressmen. Also, the Malacañang palace purportedly had the gumption to offer P15-million bribe to some unscrupulous House representatives to kill the impeachment case last year. Again, to elude possible impeachment proceedings, the Palace supposedly did the same ploy, bribing spineless congressmen into killing the complaint.
If only those bribes and corruption money went to the improvement of school facilities, equipment, books, scholarship grants, including important research programs and research facilities, then we could have the best educational system in Southeast Asia.

Exodus continues
It’s not surprising that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Filipino people, want to leave the country to work and live abroad. The Pulse Asia survey conducted few months ago showed that 19 percent or 1,200 respondents, or over 15 million Filipinos, agreed with the statement that the country is hopeless and they would like to migrate to another country. This scenario only proves that most people in these parts are already tired of being a Filipino.
Unfortunately, intellectuals and professionals are the ones who leave our shore. This situation causes brain deficit and such is not helping our country to move further.
The nursing rash four or five years ago even painted a woeful hue on our pedagogical landscape, as majority of incoming college freshmen wanted to be nurses instead of focusing on their areas of interest. Most of our registered doctors abandoned their workplace and studied nursing to easily land a job abroad.
What is more dismal is the government’s disinterest to do something with the brain drain issue. If this apathy continues, it is almost discernible that five years or ten years from now, this country will not only be inefficient in terms of delivering quality and functional education, but will also be bereft of able and enthused workers and efficient health-care system.

Businessmen step up
So it’s no surprise why so many businessmen are investing in education. While we believe some businessmen who ventured into education means profit, there are still a few who do it for the sake of service and as an expression of concern.
Some of them expressed concern over the deterioration in the mastery of English among students and graduates at the moment. They urge the government and education institutions to focus their attention on the three core subjects- English, Science and Math.
Aviation mogul and UE’s Honorary Chairman Dr. Lucio Tan believed the country’s educational system vastly deteriorated over the years, saying there was a time in the mid-50s when the Philippines was in the same “league as Japan economically and academic-wise.”
Tan said that 50 years ago, the Filipinos we’re not only “lagging behind, “we are almost dead last in the region.”
“Our leaders and educators know what went wrong; they just don’t have the political will to correct the mistakes of the past,” Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Tan as saying.
The country’s top banker, Metrobank President Alfred Ty, also shared the same opinion. He said most graduates are not well-prepared for the realities of the job market.
“Thus, a lot end up jobless,” he said and added, “The needs of the industries and college preparation do not match and continue to drift apart.”
President of the JG Summit Holdings, Inc. Lance Gokongwei, for his part, said the government must focus more on schools, on teachers and on equipment to improve education.
“But we all know that the government does not have enough money or education is only a second priority and this is where the private sector must step up,” says Gokongwei.
“If we do nothing, our neighbors will surpass us in English,” says Tan.
So the three businessmen have invested in education to address the worsening crisis in education. Tan is putting his money in the University, Gokongwei in the Ateneo Business School, Ty in Manila Doctors College.
According to UE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer P.O. Domingo, Tan plows back his money (returns on investments) to the University so that it will be used in some important school operations. The El Kapitan also established the Tan Yan Kee Foundation to help deserving students fulfill their dreams, and most of the scholars are being absorbed by Tan’s group of companies when they graduate.

Ladderized education
The government’s response to address school-issues, unemployment and job-skills mismatch is draped in the newly introduced “ladderized education program.” This program will encourage the opening of technical-vocational schools in the country that would give poor students who can’t afford college education and out-of-school youths the chance to obtain education. It officially went in effect this year under the supervision of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda).
This program seeks to benefit dropouts, out-of-school youths, and unprivileged high school graduates who cannot afford an immediate college education to attend a vocational school first, learn a skill, get employed and save money for a shot at a regular university degree.
The introduction of such new programs and educational breakthroughs is much appreciated so long as they address the ongoing pedagogical crisis in the country. But it is not enough that we only have programs, what is needed is implementation and political will to stamp out both major and peripheral problems in the country’s education.
UE Faculty Union Pres. Antonio Roland Co Po said we have enough laws and the only problem is that we lack implementation.
“It is sad that the people who are supposed to protect the students and promote quality and accessible education failed in their tasks,” he said.
UEFA Sec. and English professor Greta Pobre shared the same plaint. “It is because the government appoints education officials who are not academicians and are not familiar with their job.”
The ongoing CHTE hearing only proves that there is a need to look into the condition of our didactic system. And when we speak of education we don’t pertain to mathematical equations, or scientific symbols, but to deeper purpose and perspective. Have we improved academically? To search for the answer to this query, it’s not enough to conduct a survey and ask the respondents whether they can solve a certain mathematical equation on the spot, or to simply inquire them whether they believe they are academically good or not.

Education as fountainhead

The true gauge of education is the people themselves, whether they were able to apply what they learned from school in their everyday lives or in their collective task of making this nation competitive and progressive.
Education nowadays should not be only about English, Science and Math but also about the perspective, the feelings and the aspirations of students towards the country they live in. That is, to make our academic system the fountainhead of nationalism and patriotism. Undeniably, there is a need to align the aspects of nationalism and patriotism in the academic pathway since the very reason of education is not premised on the idea of egotism, individualism and despotism, but on altruism, democracy, wisdom and humanity.
Perhaps, the government needs to evaluate itself, or go over the pages of history, and check whether the solution to the country’s age-old problem is just under their nose, or just inside our classrooms. If most Filipinos now look forward to leaving their motherland, then it is but necessary that the government officials and the educators appraise themselves whether they serve the very purpose of education. It must be impressed upon us all that this issue does not only pertain to the three-core subjects, or to academic freedom, or to the accessibility of education, including tuitions and miscellaneous fee issues, but to the aspirations, visions and ambitions of the Filipino people in making this land at par with, or more progressive, than other countries. Our educators must produce graduates who work for the nation -to emancipate it from the seemingly endless quicksand of poverty and apathy- not for the expanding global empires.
Education? This is not the only concern of our government, education officials, academic sector and the industry. Education really is everybody’s concern.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. grace permalink
    September 23, 2008 3:38

    sad but true…
    how can we make a change whwn the very foundation of our nation is too weak…

  2. arjay soguilon permalink
    March 18, 2009 3:38

    Fight for reform in education system of the Philippines!
    Fight for higher education funds subsidy!
    Fight for students democraticrights and previledges!
    Say no to abandonment of government to education!
    “Education is a right, not a previledge!

  3. March 30, 2009 3:38

    This is really alarming for us? Being an english speaking country we should have an advantage in all terms of education,unfortunately our finest university “UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES” ranked #17 only in south east asia,in terms of education standard. We were left behind by thailand,indonesia, malaysia and even vietnam. Politicians,don’t be so focuse on your political career, please help our educational system redeem it’s name in asia. We used to have the best universities in Asia,but now we’re just an under dog. Watta shame!

  4. philzblog permalink
    October 7, 2009 3:38

    Your interest in Ayn Rand got me to reading more.

    4 yrs ago visited Philippines for first time. Was mostly in Manila (downtown, Ayala, Greenhills) and resort islands (Boracay). Met as expected educated English speaking Filipinos, did not pull out Tagalog phrase book until trip outside the City.

    I read up on Filipino history, 400 years of Spanish rule, Jose Rizal lead emancipation (I visited his old house), then the United States after Spanish-American War, impressed that your country has been, and still is, predominantly Catholic.

    School children in the city and country wearing standard uniforms. Does that reflect the influence of Catholic educators in Filipino schools? If so, and if they are similar to Catholic educators in the United States, does that not bode well for Filipino education?

  5. October 7, 2009 3:38

    Philzblog, I’d like to say that I wrote this article before I met Ayn Rand. That time I was like drifting, unable to define my beliefs and direction in life. When I met Rand I was able to understand life in a wider scale…

  6. October 7, 2009 3:38

    Some time back I thought that the education system could be solved if the government just spent more money on it and cleanse it of corruption but I have lost my belief in public education. Special interests are always going to be present and try to control the educational system. Plus, state education kills the child’s natural love of learning and interest because of standardization and homogeneity of curriculum. It also discourages the market from servicing those at the lower income brackets. If we had a free market in education there would be variety, quality, innovation, and education would actually be tied to the marketplace or produce graduates that match what the real world needs.

    I have not read Ayn Rand but I know a few things about freedom and classical liberalism.

  7. October 7, 2009 3:38

    There are a lot of people who never met her but embrace the same beliefs or philosophy. It means that the heroes in her book are real– they’re out there, unsung, strangled and suppressed, and criticized for having a philosophy for living on earth.

  8. the42gonisoffline permalink
    October 18, 2009 3:38

    what do you think about this? http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/breakingnews/nation/view/20091012-229661/Across-the-board-passing-mark-urged-for-typhoon-hit-students

    (personally, I think this is absurd)

    maybe you could write about Chiz Escudero 😀

    • October 18, 2009 3:38

      That’s idiocy. Chiz Escudero is simply doing this to advance his political career. Typhoons may have brought us physical disasters, but this political proposition of Mr. Escudero attempts to alter or distort reality by simply issuing an edict that would mandate an “across-the-board passing grade for all students affected by recent typhoons.” What does this political trick mean? It means that education problems in this country can simply be resolved or fixed by political magics (edicts, declarations or laws that would attempt to cheat reality.)

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