A statistic that keeps cropping up purportedly to prove the sorry state of our educational system is this: of the applicants for a call center, only 6% survived. But if the survivors were all what the call center wanted to hire anyway, the 6% figure is nothing to be sorry about.
Some 60 years ago, the Ayala Group embarked on an in-house executive training program, the first in the country. Every year, a newspaper ad would invite applicants who were good in math and English to fill ten openings. One thousand would apply.
Ayala got the top one percent of the applicants. Yet nobody complained about the sorry state of our educational system them. Eventually, those trainees became the most respected executives in the insurance industry.
There is also a lot of hand-wringing over the supposedly low number of students who are good at physics and mathematics. But not everybody can be an Einstein.
The important thing is that, if a student is good at physics and mathematics, our educational system allows him access to whatever he wishes to study and specialize on.
When I took up mechanical engineering in 1947, there were only four schools to choose from: University of the Philippines (UP), University of Santo Tomas (UST), National University (NU), and Mapua Institute of Technology. Today, there are engineering schools all over the archipelago.
And, every year, the graduates from the provincial schools do very well in the professional exams – and in practice afterwards.
In 1947, the student has a limited choice: civil, mechanical, electrical, chemical, mining. Today, the list is much longer.
There are no sex barriers in our educational system. A female can take any course she chooses.
There are no social barriers either. Our educational system does not stratify students by social status.
Finally, there are few financial barriers. If the child is bright enough, there are scholarships available from grade school all the way to doctorate level.
The good schools are always looking for bright students. In Ateneo de Naga, 20% of high school students are on scholarships. At Loyola Heights, Ateneo scours the Marikina Valley. If a kid is bright enough, he gets allowances for books, clothing, transport fare, on top of free tuition. His classmates do not know he is on scholarship. He is finally unmasked at graduation when his parents walk into campus.
My guess, and this is only a guess, is that those who have the knack for science and match are getting the education they want. You only have to look of the number of engineers and architects and mathematicians that our colleges graduate every year.
Our engineers are building roads and bridges in Afghanistan, operating mines in Irian Jaya, manning ocean-going vessels and American aircraft carriers.
Besides, the country also needs lawyers, accountants, sociologists, linguists, economists, financial analysts, stock brokers, and so forth. My late father never tired of telling anybody within hearing distance that he took up law because he simply could not do sums.
Are our Asian neighbors catching up? Let them. They have a long way to go. Magaling ang Pinoy. And even if they do, our world will then be a better place to live in.