Being Right

Last week saw a “viral” proposal to “freeze” the academic year, by which is meant stopping the school year completely, have students take the rest of the academic year off, and then resume (presumably) the following school year.

At the outset, this should be said of that: it is completely misguided, outrightly selfish, and utterly ignorant.

It is also symptomatic of how low a value Filipinos now place on — and particularly exposing many parents’ myopic belief about — education: not learning as a necessity for living the “good” life and achieving human flourishing but rather as a mere cosmetic or prestige commodity.

Because indeed, for many apparently, education is an unessential, something fashionably put on for the mere purpose of looking good to neighbors and to increase one’s income.

That view has poisoned college-level education so much that no one even questions the rationale for government providing (i.e., at taxpayer expense) “free” college education.

For matters not to be discussed here, there is a difference between basic elementary (and secondary) education from college-level education. While all should be encouraged to possess basic learning, the same is simply not true for 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.” But, on the other hand, a distinction is made with regard to college or “higher education,” which shall be “accessible to all” but only on “the basis of merit.”

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

Unfortunately, as was discussed here at greater length previously (“If college degrees are not important, have companies dumbed down?,” Dec. 13, 2018): “University degrees used to be compelling because schools previously took only those with clear talent and then sifted out or molded that talent even further.” But “if anyone can now become a university graduate, then a degree practically means nothing.”

And this mentality of devaluing education — of it being unnecessary — is now so pervasive it has infected all of education.

For what reason? Because of COVID-19?

Set aside reports that the Philippines is close to “flattening the curve” (whatever that means), the fact is that consensus is coalescing around data showing COVID-19’s IFR (infection fatality ratio) rate to be around 0.1-0.2%.

Even more significantly is this: 53% of our population is of school age, i.e., from kinder to college (0-24 years old). That’s nearly 53 million Filipinos in need of a proper education. Furthermore, most of the working faculty would be below 60 years of age. Hence, this relevant fact: COVID-19’s IFR for those below 70 years of age is .04%.

The present COVID-19 CFR (case fatality rate) of the Philippines is 1.6%. Of the (as of this writing) 3,875 deaths nationally, just 196 (or 5%) are from the 0-29 years of age. Arguably, that represents a CFR of 0.08% for that age group.

But a more accurate picture emerges if one focuses on the recoveries and deaths within that school-age range: a mortality rate below 0.3%. Take away those with comorbidities, then the COVID-19 death rate for the 0-29 age group is practically zero.

In fact, the probability of a 0-29 years old (without comorbidities) needing hospital treatment for COVID-19 (i.e., those affected severely or critically) is just 0.92%.

And this squares with numerous reports coming from many United States university towns, where despite news of supposedly hundreds of students being infected by COVID-19, none were reported as needing hospital treatment.

All other supposed “arguments” — from COVID-19’s transmissibility to its alleged “long term effects” — have been addressed elsewhere (“Gaslighting the Filipino,” Aug. 13, 2020) and will not be repeated here.

Some parents seem to have taken the complacent view that freezing the school year or continuing with online learning is beneficial to them, as it removes them from the responsibility of taking their kids to school or providing allowances. But that’s utterly shallow and self-centered.

People need to understand: learning does not come from merely reading or listening to lectures. If absorbing information is all that learning is, then any young person with a functioning brain can do that. But that is not learning. A proper education teaches context, curiosity for and appreciation of truths, and the ability to actualize being human and human “goods.” That cannot be captured in any book or transmitted through lectures. True learning primarily comes about through the direct and daily personal interaction between students amongst themselves, students with teachers, and teachers amongst themselves.

The need for social interaction and personal academic engagement is a truth borne of centuries of experience, from Aristotle to today’s modern educators, and confirmed by tons of research upon research.

There is categorically no good reason to keep our youths locked up at home. Doing so will instead actually damage them and society fundamentally, the effects of which could last for generations to come.


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