Dumb and dumber

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The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has proposed the addition of one year to college courses, among other proposals from that body as well as the Department of Education (which has supervision over basic education) to address the vast problems of Philippine education.

Few will contest its poor state. Numeracy and literacy levels are low among primary and high school students, many of whom are unprepared for the next stage of school, including college work. Among the indicators of the latter were the low scores in the now abolished National College Entrance Examinations. But the results of the board examinations in many disciplines have also been disappointing, with high rates of failures among the graduates of many schools that for some reason continue to be licensed and allowed to operate. Filipinos may actually be getting dumber, thanks to Philippine education.

Much of the criticism of Philippine education has been on the mismatch between what Filipinos are trained for and what the economy needs, for which the high levels of unemployment are blamed. But quality remains a major issue at all levels. The system has too many bad teachers and poor school facilities like laboratories and libraries (where, thanks to the text book scam, some books are so full of errors students would do better not to read them).

That among ASEAN countries the Philippines allocates one of the lowest budgets for education is certainly among the reasons as far as public education is concerned. But equally to blame is the vast number of private schools where an “academic proletariat” of college instructors toils for a pittance, and who have little time and energy to update themselves in their disciplines, much less do research to enhance teaching.
One of the consequences of low teacher salaries is teaching’s decline in prestige, and therefore its attracting the less gifted among high school graduates. It’s not particularly encouraging for those about to decide what college course to take to know that the local maestra has to sell underwear to make ends meet. Neither is the sight of a tired “professor” with a PhD from some fifth- rate school reading the platitudes of the last 40 years from crumbling note cards while he watches the clock (he’s paid by the hour) the best way to advertise the glamour of a teaching career.

It’s not only the mean possibilities for employment bad training affects, however. Congressional education committees don’t even mention it, but bad education doesn’t only make it difficult for masscom graduate Juan or Juana to land that job as a media researcher and to end up operating a copying machine in a shop specializing on fake diplomas on Manila’s Claro M. Recto avenue. It also dumbs down a populace that in this rumored democracy is supposed to make the decisions on public issues sovereign decision-making requires.
But that may suit the bureaucrats and politicians fine. It makes it less difficult to make bad policies seem good (for example: the Visiting Forces Agreement will benefit us all, as will amending the Constitution to allow foreigners ownership of land and the media), among other reasons because it perpetrates concepts of governance and foreign relations, as well as such approaches to social issues as the idea that nothing can be done about poverty and the skewed distribution of wealth because that’s just the way it is–it’s God’s or some other supernumerary’s will, just like corruption in officialdom.

Which leads us to the basic question of whether, indeed, there’s the political will in the first place to truly reform Philippine education. I’m not talking about reforming it to “make Filipinos globally competitive” (a cliché some “educators” still mouth despite the collapse of the global economy, which among other consequences is forcing back home Filipino OFWs who’ve lost their jobs). I’m talking about the kind of reform that will not only truly arm Filipinos with the skills and knowledge the development of their own country needs, even as it develops their potentials as human beings.

I know, I know. The latter aim has been off the education radar for decades. I’ve heard engineering professors question why engineering students have to take art studies, history and literature courses, because “they don’t need them.” Big mistake. Human beings aren’t solely engineers or doctors or lawyers, they’re also citizens, parents, lovers, husbands, wives, neighbors who need to understand themselves, each other and the world. What’s more, their understanding of that world does have something to do with how well or how badly they do their jobs as engineers or lawyers or doctors. Certainly a lawyer who’s aware of the vast complexity of human motives, knowledge the arts can provide, would merit one’s trust better than one who has absolutely no idea about why one of his late clients left her entire estate to her cats.
But you know how it is. An ignorant population, including professionals who fit the category of Jose Ortega y Gasset’s “learned ignoramus” (meaning one who knows only his discipline and nothing about anything else, including why his country’s poor), are the best assets of a corrupt political class focused on staying in power, despite the lessons of history, which in the Philippines says the time’s ripe–some would say overripe– for this class to give way to real democratic governance of, by and for the people. Which is why even an engineer needs to sit in a class in history, or a doctor in political science.

What Philippine education needs is a declaration of purpose: the making of a competent, and knowledgeable corps of people who will find the jobs they need to survive, and even create those jobs by devoting their skills to their country’s authentic development. But they’ll also have to be armed with enough understanding of history and of their society, as well as the humanization the arts have embedded in their minds and hearts, to have some vision of what they want themselves and Philippine society to be.

With that context clear, we can earnestly look into whether there should be an additional college year in these parts, or whether the addition of two years to primary education is what will help produce the Filipinos the country needs. Whatever.

Luis V. Teodoro chairs the CHED technical committee on journalism education.

(BusinessWorld)

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