Being Right

A fundamental damage this lockdown caused that needs constant reiteration is that inflicted on education. To be more precise: years of declining quality in the nation’s educational system and standards finally finds its culmination in this lockdown.

The main culprit is the radically increased access to education, the imprudent permissiveness of liberal over-inclusiveness in education resulted not in improved learning and enlightenment for our society, not even raising the quality of our public discourse, but rather in depreciating and devaluing the concept of education itself.

The simple fact is, not everyone is qualified for a university education. And it’s actually not even desirable for everyone to go through university education.

Hence, it is emphasized that (even constitutionally) there is a difference between basic elementary (and secondary) education and college-level education. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reflects this, pointing out that education is a “right” and should be free for “the elementary and fundamental stages.” Yet, with regard to college or “higher education,” such shall indeed be “accessible to all” but only on the “the basis of merit.” Which is as it should be.

Unfortunately, although it is commonsensical enough that university is not apt for everyone, political correctness and misconceived notions of social justice pushed to make education “inclusive.” This resulted in admissions and education criteria being adjusted to allow almost anyone to get a degree. And it’s also not far-fetched to think that commercial interests played a role.

The resultant consequences were far from unforeseeable: education was devalued and this lockdown revealed that for many of our citizens indeed, particularly amongst parents, education is “unessential.” Some even suggesting that it could be done away with, what with the push to cancel the ongoing school year.

Education has become merely a fashion statement or a tool to increase one’s income.

And ironically, those former and present students that hated schooling are now celebrating its decline. They ignore the fact, however, that the only reason they were able to get into school in the first place was because standards were lowered to allow them in.

University degrees used to be compelling because schools previously took pains to admit only those with clear talent, then sifting out or molding that talent even further. That rigorous process gave employers obvious incentives to prefer university graduates.

But if anyone can become a university graduate, then a degree means practically nothing.

Employers logically now need to search for other credible criteria to separate the good from the mediocre. Ironically, the alternative criteria employers are now starting to use: skills, adaptability, and work ethic — are actually more exclusive and difficult, requiring more effort, commitment, and humility on the part of the applicant. Although in these self-entitled times, perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

In any event, the lockdown (damaging as it may be to learning) can be viewed as a catalyst to spur true improvement in Philippine education.

And at the outset this is stated: the need for more funding is not a necessity. Indeed, for our cash-strapped country, pouring additional funding is something best now avoided. McKinsey & Co.’s 2007 study “How the world’s best performing schools systems come out on top” emphasized that. Rather than increase the budget, what a country needs to do to have better schools is to focus on three things: hire the best teachers; make the best even better; and act quickly and vigorously whenever pupils start to lag.

Counter-intuitively, so the study goes, one doesn’t need to engage in increased spending for better hires. The trick is to ruthlessly weed applicants, limiting from the very start the number of teachers to the very best. By making it harder to become a teacher, you then get to attract the best.

More school hours (or school years) were also discarded as factors, considering that Finnish students have shorter classroom time than other developed countries.

Which leads then to the core suggestion here: to merge the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED), and then minimize that consequent body’s role.

Instead, the budget, management, and the providing for public education should be given exclusively and directly to the individual provincial governments. The DepEd/CHED should be limited to merely coordinating with the different LGUs (local government units) educational systems, as well as providing funding for specialized and limited national programs.

The DepEd/CHED should also be relieved of its function in relation to private schools, with policy and academic standards being left to self-regulation. Doing the foregoing (which actually needs no constitutional amendment) ensures that education is managed by the people who know it best: those on the ground and closest to the school’s community. It would also lead to greater academic freedom and flexible space for innovation.

It should also lead to healthy competition amongst the provinces as to who can provide the best schooling. This should then lead to defined niche areas for the different cities, which the provinces can now promote and develop.


Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

Twitter @jemygatdula