In the Philippines: Education or indoctrination?

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

As in several years past, the start of classes in June was preceded by two announcements unwelcome to those who have to pay for their own or their children’s education. Although bad enough in themselves, these announcements were also indicative of how the educational system looks at young men and women in this country primarily in terms of capacity to pay rather than intellectual ability.

A week or so before classes open in most colleges and universities, the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd), which has oversight over tertiary or higher education institutions, said that it has approved the applications by a number of schools for tuition and other fee increases. A total of 313 of these institutions will now raise tuition and other fees “at an average,” said CHEd, of 6.48% in the coming school year, while 212 others can increase only the non-tuition fees they charge.

The Department of Education (DepEd), which supervises the country’s primary and secondary schools, announced at almost the same time that it too has allowed increases in tuition and other fees for the coming 2015-2016 school year in 1,246 out of the 1,556 private elementary and high schools in the Philippines.

The highest increase requested was 29%, while the lowest was 1.25%. Unlike CHEd, DepEd did not reveal the average increase it approved, but both agencies apparently released their respective figures in anticipation of, and to soften, adverse public reaction.

But public reaction to what has become an annual event has always varied along economic and class lines, with those capable of paying the additional amounts schools will demand shrugging their shoulders in acceptance of what they see as inevitable, while those who are more financially constrained complain that the increases will further strain their budgets. Still others say that with these fee increases, they simply can’t afford to send their children to school.

The increases are indeed disincentives, particularly to pursuing higher education, and many students will drop out of school as a result. No study has definitely linked the dropout rate to tuition and other fee increases, but the connection seems logical, and there are legitimate fears that the increases will further add to the number of out-of-school youth.

It’s particularly likely that many high school graduates intending to go on to college will change their minds because of the increases, or else will end up enrolling in vocational schools or the state-run universities. But, plagued by insufficient budgets and limited facilities, most of the latter schools have had to limit enrollments through increasingly stringent admission requirements. (Of interest is that 75% of students enrolled at the University of the Philippines are from private schools.) As a consequence, many of the young men and women from less financially capable families will end up this June either in vocational schools, in low-end jobs, or idling away their days.

Neither the government nor the administrators of private schools — where tuition and other fees can be as high as P420,000 (there’s a school in Cebu City called the Centre for International Education that charges that much per year) — will say so, but they’ve come close to stating in the past that that’s just as well; Filipinos should abandon the assumption that everyone can or has to go to college, anyway. They do in fact encourage people to go to vocational schools, supposedly because it’s easier for the graduates of such schools to find jobs, and because the country needs people who can work with their hands — an argument whose class basis should be more than evident.

The same assumption informs the thinking of many school administrators, however. They assume that the purpose of education, whether it’s being pursued in an expensive, elite-only business school or in a low-end vocational school that trains welders and machinists, is to enable the individual to get a job after graduation, although preferably a high-paying one.

As limited as this view of education may be, it does keep people in their place: thanks to an educational system that divides people into rich and poor no matter their capabilities, the son of a business magnate usually ends up being a CEO himself while the daughter of a taxi driver ends up assembling watch parts in an export processing zone.

But formal education is supposed to be more than a preparation for absorption into the economic system. It’s supposed to arm people with the insight, imagination, knowledge, creativity and critical outlook that will enable them to continue learning throughout their lives so they can function independently as members of society. And as generations of young men and women have been told, education is the one sure road to social mobility.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Emeritus Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky describes education as an enabling tool for people to reach the “highest goal in life to inquire and create.”

He said: “The purpose of education is just to help people to learn on their own. It’s you the learner who is going to achieve that in the course of education and it’s really up to you to determine how you’re going to master and use it.”

An essential part of education is the development of the capacity to be critical, to challenge authority, to question what’s going on, and to propose approaches to problems that have so far defied solution.

Chomsky has also said that true education isn’t indoctrination in the sense of teaching people to accept things as they are, which educational systems tend to foster, but to question them once the individual has been armed with the knowledge and skills to evaluate and critique the way things are perceived and the way things are done. Education is in short not about preserving situations that keep people poor and ignorant, which deny them justice and mock their humanity, but about helping free men and women change them.

Philippine history itself attests to the power of independent thought. Jose Rizal’s experience and insight enabled him to transcend the indoctrination inherent in colonial education and to imagine an alternative future in which all men and women would be equal, and used the powers he had acquired to fight for that vision even at the cost of his own life. From reading novels as well as law books and other materials, the self-taught Andres Bonifacio brought his knowledge to bear in the field of battle in behalf of an independent Philippines.

Despite its mandated function — derived from its commercial character — of indoctrinating in the virtues of the present order those who come under its power, Philippine education today, as in Rizal’s time, has nevertheless produced the critical, imaginative and truly educated men and women committed to a better Philippines. But the constant division and redivision of the Filipino youth into rich and poor through the increasing costs of education and its orientation as indoctrination is making the transformation of Philippine society more and more problematic. Like most Philippine institutions, education is not about change, but about keeping things the way they have always been. Indoctrination in the guise of education is a form of ignorance.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.

Published in Business World
May 28, 2015

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