Coffee Server or Decision Maker?

Published June 7, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Jaime Laya

Wala Lang

Journalist Andrew J. Masigan points out the alarming results of a survey conducted by the OECD Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) of some 600,000 15-year-olds from 79 countries. Filipino teenagers ranked last in ability to comprehend lengthy narratives, to deal with abstract concepts, or to make distinctions between fact and opinion. In math, our youth ranked 78th and in science, Filipinos were 71st out of 79.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is determined by God-given brainpower and acquired knowledge.  The finding is that our young people have an average IQ of 86 compared with 108 of the average Singaporean, South Korean, or Hong Kong child. I can’t believe Filipinos are behind the rest of the world in native intelligence: education, both formal and informal, accounts for a big portion of the gap. In world university rankings, U.P. was 396; Ateneo was in the 601-650th category, and De la Salle in the 801-1000th. One wonders how our hundreds of other private schools and state universities and colleges rank.

PHILIPPINE EDUCATION Pre-pandemic classroom setup for grade school students (Photo by John Jerome Ganzon)

The consequences are predictable and indeed are already evident. With poor comprehension and reasoning ability added on top of a pakikisama culture, leaders and managers tend to decide on the basis of personalities and emotion. They can’t say “no.” These mean mediocrity in governance, poorly run public institutions, low success in entrepreneurship, slow technology adoption, and low disciplinary compliance.

Filipinos could become the manual laborers of the world—maybe not even that if artificial intelligence and robotics reduce demand for unskilled labor.

It takes a long time—at least 16 years—for changes in the educational system to bear fruit. Add to that the time for preliminary work to identify necessary adjustments, design the implementation process, develop teaching methods and material, and train teachers in the use of those new methods and materials.

We have already gone through the process and it may be time to do a repeat. In 1863, the Philippines became one of the first in the world to provide free public and compulsory basic education. A second transformation took place 40 years later when the religion-heavy church-run system was overhauled by the education-conscious American Regime. New curricula, teaching methods, the English language, etc. were introduced and hundreds of American teachers brought in to handle classes and help train Filipino teachers.

I was educated at the tail end of the American Regime-designed public school system. We had one teacher per class in Grades 1 to 4, a general practitioner you might say who taught everything from English to geography to music, even farming—boys each had a vegetable plot where we learned crop rotation and all that. We had specialist teachers in Grades 5 and 6 and marched in twos to different rooms for English, arithmetic, world history, and other classes. I had to take an entrance exam for high school (at age 10). Boys were seated on the window side of the room and girls on the door side, presumably because boys had the habit of sneaking out. The smallest kids like me were seated in front and the taller ones at the rear.

Academic supervisors went from school to school, actually sitting in classrooms to observe and rate teachers. They also helped explain when the teacher was out of his/her depth.

Algebra, geometry, and physics trained us in quantitative and logical thinking and special topics were introduced along the way. It was in English class where I picked up not only writing and editing, debating, declamation, and drama, but also negotiable instruments and Roberts Rules of Order, all of which I’ve found useful and/or enriching in later life, i.e., mostly during the second half of the 20th century.

What was useful for me is no longer enough for the 21st century world of my grandchildren. My eldest grandchildren grew up in Spain and I could not even understand their high school homework.

There have been many changes in our system since I left school. We no longer use English as medium of instruction, replaced in the 1970s by Tagalog (renamed Pilipino, then Filipino) and regional languages. The curriculum has been changed with new and/or consolidated subjects (e.g., music, physical education and health in one course; no history or geography) and appropriate textbooks and teaching material prepared. The Master Teacher career path was introduced, allowing advancement as classroom teacher and not alone by promotion to administrative posts. Obviously results have fallen short of expectation. We need to bring up our OECD-PISA ranking 40 notches just for our 15-year-olds to be average.

I don’t know how public school classes are now being conducted with COVID-19, but this seems a good time to accelerate the improvement of our children’s competence and IQ. We can accomplish a lot using the latest technology and with inputs from international experience and expertise. It’s amazing how virtual meetings and Webinars have proliferated, something that would be of great help to public schools and teacher training institutions.

The 21st century is a new world. With open economies, instant communication, and greater mobility, Filipinos will have to compete internationally in whatever field they are in. They have to communicate in English, think quantitatively, and argue confidently and knowledgeably or they will end up in conference rooms serving coffee while other nationals analyze and decide.

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]