OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM: THE BEST IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

Early this month, a two-part series in the Inquirer blasted our educational system.  The series started by quoting Senator Angara as saying that our educational system is a “ticking time bomb…that will really blow up in our faces in two or three years.” Former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz said that after spending billions of pesos, our educational system is “only marginally better.”

Statistics on dropout, participation and cohort survival rates were displayed to prove the sorry state of affairs.

Allow me to analyze the figures from entirely different standpoints.

First, inspite of the H1N1 virus, some 22.4 million students are enrolled in our public and private schools.  That is fully one-fourth of the population.  All over the second and third worlds, and, probably even in the first, that figure is unmatched.  The figure is also larger than the population of Australia or Canada.

Second, the dropout rate may have hovered at around 5% a year, but, if the student population increases by 200,000 a year that means 190,000 new survivors a year.

Third, they say that, of those who enrolled in first grade, only 12% reach college.  That means almost 2,700,000 enter college every year.  That is larger than the entire population of Singapore.

Fourth, even if only one-third eventually finish college, that is still a whopping 900,000 graduates, more than the rest of Southeast Asia combined.

Finally, our colleges and universities no longer just crank out old-line lawyers, doctors, accountants, architects and engineers.  There is a dizzying array of new disciplines a student can choose from.  After all, the country also needs linguists, actuaries, mathematicians, economists, and the latest creatures on earth, the informational technologists.

But what happens to the dropouts?  If they leave the farm, and learn a trade from the technical school nearby, they will find work in the cities.  After all, our home-grown, world-class architects and engineers cannot build a 50-story, 1,000-unit condo building without the help of a horde of carpenters, masons, electricians, mechanics and ditch diggers.

The most valuable characteristic of our educational system is its almost universal access to any kid who wants to go to school.  There are no social barriers.  The poorest child in the most distant barrio can start at a public school nearby.  If he is bright enough, there are scholarships available in high school, college and all the way to the doctorate level.

It is no longer necessary to come to Manila to get into college, as I did 60 years ago to take up mechanical engineering.  Every capital city all over the country is sprawling with schools.  My hometown, Naga City, has 146 schools, including three universities.  There are medical, nursing, nautical, agricultural, architectural, engineering, and nautical schools.  If a kid has the knack for it, he has a wide choice of courses in information technology, including digital illustration and animation (have you heard of that one?).

English is the most widely spoken language on earth.  Our biggest advantage over our neighbors is that we are the third largest English-speaking country in the whole, wide world, next only to the U.S. and the U.K. India may have more English-speaking people, but India is not an English-speaking country.

Oh, sure, we Filipinos speak our own brand of English. So what?  Why shouldn’t we speak Taglish?  Have you heard Americans, British and Australian fracture the King’s English?

For close to three-quarters of a century, the national budget for education has always been larger than that for national defense.  We have more than twice as many public school teachers as soldiers.  Today, that is really saying a lot, considering that the country faces three rebellions.

We should be immensely proud of our educational system.  The trouble is we tend to look at the wrong places.  (More next time.)

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