When Kabataan Partylist Rep. Sarah Elago questioned Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno about the absence of any allocation for free tuition in state universities and colleges (SUCs), the response was that it would cost P100 billion and the government could not afford it. But Secretary Diokno also added: “College education benefits the individual, not the society. Yet we recognize we want to help the poor get free scholarships,”
Could our dear Budget Secretary repeat what he said?
First of all, while, of course, it is the individual who directly benefits from college education in terms of acquiring more knowledge and skills, which translates to more job opportunities, it is not the individual alone who benefits. In a poor country such as the Philippines where wages are low and labor is cheap, the college education of a member of a family, especially for the poor, is their only way out of poverty. It is also the only way by which the future family of that same family member could break free from the quagmire of poverty that has enveloped his or her family for generations. It is about social mobility. And if more poor families break free from poverty, would that not reflect on the development of Philippine society?
Second, a country’s expenditures on education is not only about helping the individual and his or her family, it is also an investment on human capital. Isn’t the number of scientists, engineers, health professionals, teachers, writers and artists, bankers, business managers, and of course economists, among others, that a country generates a measure of its development? Has an underdeveloped, fledgling country ever taken off without investments on human capital? Of all people, Budget Secretary Diokno, a graduate of and professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics should know this.
The problem with practitioners and adherents of neoliberal economists such as Diokno is that they believe that tertiary education is a privilege reserved for the elite classes who could afford it, with a sprinkling of exceptionally bright students from the poor with scholarships. For them, all the other youths from poor families should content themselves to becoming workers and rank and file employees, thus the K 12 project.
They do not believe in investing on the whole population for the development of the nation. They do not believe on the need for uplifting the poor and social mobility.
For them, for as long as the value of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increases, then the economy is doing well. For as long as they could discuss about development in their air-conditioned offices or in expensive hotels and restaurants, then the country must be doing good. Forget about the poor; the country needs semi-skilled cheap labor anyway.