what’s education for?

A forwarded email as I was browsing through my Yahoo! account. It got me thinking on why I went back schooling with a shallow purpose. Reading the article made me feel like a jackass because of why I’m doing what I’m doing. When did practicality overwhelm idealism?

What’s education for?
By Conrado de Quiros
Published on page A14 of the January 31, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

GILL Westaway, British Council executive director, had an interesting thing to say last week. The Philippines, he said, could be suffering from too many colleges and universities. “There could be an oversupply in some areas. In a country like the Philippines, where resources are scarce, it’s better to have fewer universities with quality rather than allowing hundreds of universities that are diluting the overall quality.” Westaway based his remarks on a one-year study made by the British Council with funding from the Asian Development Bank.

Well, if the point of education is merely to enable students to find jobs, then I agree with this wholeheartedly. A college or university education in this country is superfluous, even counterproductive. It is four or five years’ waste of time and effort. A couple of months from now, thousands of college graduates will line up before their school officials to get their diplomas, and we will hear again, in editorials and various commentaries, about how so few of those hopeful faces will turn radiant in the next few years. Most of them will end up glum from unemployment. There are simply no jobs available for most of those commerce, accounting and communication graduates.

If the point is landing a job abroad, then the four or five years spent in colleges and universities are just as well a waste of time and effort. You won’t be working as a doctor, lawyer, or media person in other countries anyway. They won’t take you in those capacities simply because you have a degree in medicine, law, or communication from a Philippine university. Your employers are not entirely to blame, to go by the Newsweek ranking of colleges and universities some years ago, where Ateneo, UP and La Salle landed among the lower rungs of the ladder, a far cry from 30 years before when they were among the top 20 in Asia. You have a degree in medicine, law and communication from a Philippine university, you will work as a caregiver, a bank teller, or a fast-food attendant anyway.

If the point of education is to merely give students employment, here or abroad, we would be better off scrapping colleges and universities and putting up nursing and trade schools and schools that teach survival English across the country. Many colleges and universities are already doing it, opening up nursing departments in response to the demand for caregivers in the United States, Canada and elsewhere. And teaching functional English so the nurses and maids can communicate with their employers. I am not being entirely facetious when I say maybe we should also put up pop music schools. That’s our main export to Asia-musicians and bands.

But if the point of education is more than just employing people, then the problem becomes a lot more complex, one that isn’t solved simply by lessening the number of colleges or universities. The problem precisely lies in the fact that our whole educational system is now predicated on enabling students to find work. That is as narrow and unenlightened a view of education as you can get. The point of education is not just to enable students to work, it is to enable students to think. The point of education is not just to impart skills, it is to impart vision. The point of education is not just to prepare the youth to face the “outside world.” The point of education is to educate.

I grant giving students the skills to find jobs is important as well, particularly for a country like ours. I found nothing short of heroic the efforts of my mechanic some years ago to see his son through dentistry and his daughter through nursing school. At the end of the day, he would pull himself up from underneath the car he had been fixing, grimy and sweaty, to greet his kids when they came home from school in their smart all-white uniforms. People like him have every right to expect his children’s schools to give them a crack at a more secure future.

But that isn’t all that schools can, or should, do. Certainly, that isn’t all that colleges and universities can, or should, do. The business of colleges and universities is to bequeath to the world a generation that can think, that can aspire to know the what and the why and not just the how and the how-how-the-carabao. I remember again the irate letter-writer who demanded to know what I had against caregivers and maids-I had asked what we were doing turning ourselves into the toilet-bowl cleaners of the world-when both did completely respectable work. My answer then, and now, is that I have nothing against them, just as I have nothing against janitors and forklift operators. What I have against is the attitude that we can only exist in survival mode and that we can’t be better. What I have against is an educational system that imagines its role in life to be to cater to the export labor market by producing standard entrants to it.

I remember again too the non-joke about Pinoy and Chinoy college graduates. When Pinoy graduates meet, they ask each other, “What job have you landed?” When Chinoy graduates meet, they ask each other, “What business have you opened?” We can say the same thing about the graduates of our colleges and universities and those of other Asian countries. When they meet, our graduates ask each other, “Which country do you want to go to?” When the graduates of other Asian colleges and universities meet, they ask each other, “Where do we want our country to go?” The first is called resignation, the second is called ambition. The first is called desperation, the second is called direction. The first is called getting by, the second is called getting ahead.

We just want the first, let’s not bother reducing our colleges and universities. Let’s scrap them altogether

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True enough, one can get an online degree anywhere, but one should know the value of education in order to be truly wise and learn. Anyone can get a degree, but the process of application which we want to be part of our system, is a bit hard.

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