, July 17, 2024

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A Shallow and Clueless Generation?

  •   3 min reads
A Shallow and Clueless Generation?

How can we build a successful country with a generation kept shallow and clueless by their elders?

By Joey Salgado

It has become a ritual of sorts for a new administration to speak glowingly about its plan to improve the quality of education. President Marcos Jr., however, did more than that last week.

Speaking after Vice President and Education Secretary Sara Duterte presented the dismal state of the country’s educational system - and her department’s plans to address them - the President declared empathically: “We have failed them. We have to admit that we have failed our children.”

What did the Education Secretary say that prompted President Marcos Jr. to make such a provocative remark?

For one, she admitted that our students "are not academically proficient” and are “academically insecure.” As a result, “many of them may fail to meet the standards of the demanding and competitive world.”

We do not have enough classrooms, she said in her report, facilities are crying for upgrades, and teachers need support. There are gaps in the K-12 curriculum, and as a result, graduates of senior high school are finding it difficult to find jobs.
The Vice President also cited "cracks" in the procurement practices of the Education Department, although she omitted to say that these “cracks,” not only in the Education Department but in the Health Department as well, were uncovered during the term of her father as president.

As shocking as these revelations may have sounded to the President, these issues have been raised before.

Experts and development institutions have long been warning of a crisis in Philippine education, citing the consistently poor performance of our students in international assessments.

An assessment of 79 countries conducted in 2018 placed our students last in reading and second to last in science and math. Eighty per cent fall “below minimum proficiency levels” for their grade, while a test conducted among 15 year-old students found that 72 per cent ranked low in reading, science and math.

Nationalist historian Renato Constantino traces the roots of Philippine education as a tool for subjugation, not meant to nurture critical thinking but to produce loyal and subservient subjects and the manpower to serve the colonial authorities.

The core purpose of education in the Philippines remains unchanged, in the opinion of nationalist thinkers, even after our supposed liberation from our colonizers. It has only been repurposed to supply the needs of factories and industries, with graduates coming from the poor segments of society serving as workers and those from the middle class as managers and professionals. The onset of globalization led to another retooling. Our schools have been reoriented to provide the workforce for foreign investors and for companies abroad, including servile and menial work.

This has been the main direction of Philippine education since the 1990s, deemed imperative to the attainment of the much-hyped status of Newly Industrialized Country (NIC) during the term of former president Fidel V. Ramos. But the soaring ambition was not reciprocated in terms of budgetary support and a forward-looking road map for quality education. Economically, we have progressively lagged behind our neighbors in Southeast Asia.

Even as these ills have been allowed to fester, the Duterte administration, invoking national security, mounted a determined assault on critical thinking. This was done by demonizing intellectuals and educational institutions, undermining historical truths, and promoting distortions and false narratives. The assault was mounted from the highest levels of government.

While it purports to expose the alleged inroads of communists in our schools, the assault on critical thinking also sent a chilling message to our youth: it is dangerous to ask questions and to explore new ideas. Flirt with contrarian views and you can be publicly shamed, even arrested.

When government stifles critical thinking, it deprives the youth the capacity and the incentive to imagine and to express themselves freely, to push themselves beyond the conventions set by government and society. This would consign them to a future restricted by the borders set by the authorities, where they only color within the lines, content with the distractions of light entertainment and social media. A shallow and clueless generation.

In his speech, the President made clear his administration’s intent to create “great Filipinos”  recognized globally for their skills and competence, a “well trained and highly experienced workforce” that would be the key to our success as a country.

But pray tell, how can we build a successful country with a generation kept shallow and clueless by their elders, one that can hardly read, write, count, and think critically? Can a generation unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood, especially when falsehoods are spread by those in power, become “great Filipinos?” I wish the answer is as easy as dancing on TikTok.

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