Public Lives

Education in a competitive world


Not too long ago, the ideological rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union structured the competition among nations.  The question then was: Which system promised the better life—capitalism or socialism? Today, political system hardly figures as a criterion in the classification of countries. And neither is the standing of nations assessed singularly by their present economic achievement. The key factor that now preoccupies governments that aim to succeed in an increasingly competitive world is the educational performance of their young people.

This is the reason for the current obsession with comparative rankings of universities on a global scale. These rankings constitute a major marketing tool for schools that are engaged in the fierce recruitment of students from all over the world. Increasingly, the big universities in the West have had to rely on foreign student enrollment to make up for the massive cuts in government subsidy to universities. But while the performance of tertiary institutions remains a crucial indicator of a country’s economic future, even more important to the overall prospects of a country is the state of its basic and secondary education. It is this that has been monitored for the longest time by inter-governmental institutions and research organizations.

The Economist (9/17/11) reports the latest findings from two reputable research agencies – the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), an office in the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and McKinsey, a research and consultancy firm. Pisa inquired into the academic attainment of 15-year-olds in 32 countries, and came up with rankings that troubled most of Europe. Only one European country – Finland, the maker of Nokia phones – made it to the top five. The other four were all Asian: Shanghai China (No. 1), South Korea (No. 2), Hong Kong China (No. 4), and Singapore (No. 5). The United States stood at No. 14, Germany at No. 16, and Britain at No. 18.

The rankings were based on performance in three areas: Reading, Mathematics, and Science. Shanghai led in all three areas. Japan, the first Asian country to break into the league of industrialized nations, was at No. 8 in educational achievement, trailing behind the new Asian economic dynamos – China, South Korea, and Singapore.

These outcomes are confirmed by the latest McKinsey report. The study sought to know which countries have made the most dramatic improvement in educational performance in recent years. Not surprisingly, the top three were Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea.  But, what was interesting was the composition of the rest of the top 10: Ontario Canada, Saxony Germany, England, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Poland.

The question that these findings leave in everybody’s mind is: What did these places do in common? What was it that spelled the difference? Existing analysis, says The Economist article, tends to focus on three reasons for bad schools: low government spending, social class differences, and cultures that do not value education. The problem is actually more complex. “The idea that good schooling is about spending money is the one that has been beaten back hardest. Many of the 20 leading economic performers in the OECD doubled or tripled their education spending in real terms between 1970 and 1994, yet outcomes in many countries stagnated – or went backwards…. Andreas Schleicher, head of analysis at Pisa, thinks that only about 10% of the variation in pupil performance has anything to do with money.”

In contrast, class differences seem to produce the biggest differences in educational performance. Children from economically disadvantaged families “remain at higher risks of poor outcomes.” One expert, Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington, is quoted as saying that up to 60 percent of academic performance is attributable to “non-school factors” like family income. This is certainly truer in countries like the Philippines where mass poverty exists, and children are sooner put to work than sent to school.

Perhaps the one thing that we share with the Confucian cultures of Asia is the high value we assign to education. Ask any Filipino parent and even the poorest will tell you that a good education is the most enduring of all wealth because no one can ever take it away from you. Yet it is a fact that the push to excel at school is felt mostly in middle-class families.  This is also where English, the preferred medium of modern education, is fast replacing the native tongue as the language of the home.

As important as these factors may be, current educational reform, says The Economist, tends to revolve around four basic thrusts: (1) letting the schools themselves set their own targets, with full support from the top, and calling on civic pride to raise the performance level of local schools; (2) paying particular attention to the needs of underachievers; (3) experimenting with a diverse range of schools that are suited to their milieu, including those “run by parents, charities, and local groups”; and (4) recruiting the best teachers and justly compensating them. These reforms do not come cheap, even as their outcomes are uncertain. But governments with lofty aspirations have had little choice but to keep experimenting, and studying, and copying, what others are doing.

What we do with the education of our children today will decide how we will fare in the even more intense competition of tomorrow’s world.

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  • Mariano

    The way things are going on , in ten to fifty years time or ad infinitum who knows ?the Phil. will still be the main supplier of domestic helpers/prostitutes ( with B.S. Educ. degree) to our neigbouring countries.We’ve seen the deterioration of our educational system in the last fifty years.Our political leaders ,justices ,lawyers ,educators and the so called highly educated/respected members of our society are speaking in pidgin English ( (Taglish) What an embarrasment !!!

  • Anonymous

    Never expect Pilipino students to land anywhere from 30 to 40. Our education is so politicized that lessons are second fiddle now. Students prefer to be seen demonstrating and planking because that’s the chichi thing to do. Or maybe they’re are flunking, that’s why. They don’t even think how hard their parents toil just to send them to school. They are good only for bragging.

    Worse, good educators and brilliant scientist serving schools before are now going abroad because ability and credibility are not the bases for promotion but political connection and bootlicking. The low salary put the last nail in the coffin.

    The present administration clearly put education below its priority. Funds are prioritized for the encouragement of the culture of mendicancy that Noynoy put P39Billion to the jobbery-friendly CCT, a GMA program that he made a pet project. Education budget needs a half a billion to put schools functional. But Malacanang won’t part with that from its dole-outs. So, there you are, the priority of Noynoy can be discerned from the CCT and education concerns.

  • JM Yanoyan

    Education is a big chunk of the government allocation but we still fail to improve our rankings in the world. We keep on going back to our obvious edge which being proficient in English. But English is not enough. We have to think critically, act professionally and start taking continuing education seriously. Experience is not everything. Go and take your Masters and don’t sell yourself short. Find a niche in the job jungle where you can fully exercise your potential. Also, PNoy provide more jobs. The unemployment rate is at an all time low. However, if the government can’t entrepreneurs and innovators can always produce a job market. The question is, are we these kind of people?

  • Chua Bee

    how about cutting the budget for Higher education, does  he know that
    education is the bedrock of any society? Nasaan ang foresigth niya?
    Prioritise education. Compete with India and China, they are quitely
    investing their money in soft power

    • Payutenyo DAgimas

      for me, its not really the lack of foresight that is the problem right now. it is the lack of resources to accomplish what you want to do whether that is adding 2 years of secondary education, hire more teachers, buy more books, or increasing the budget tertiary education.

      thats why unless you can eradicate graft and corruption, these dreams will remain to be just dreams.eradicate corruption so that the budget wont be stolen for their intended purpose and to increase revenues.

  • Chua Bee

    I said this in the other web ” not worthy of UP”. Let UP start hiring
    instructors with PhD only. In a 3 year’s time, I am sure it will
    increase its ranking and standards, internationally.
    parochialism, political connections para maging prof or prof 12 sa UP,
    kahit walang Phd is utterly embarrassing…calling UP as the premier
    institution of this country is embarrassing. Ateneo is the same,,,,puro
    pa-elitista eh wala naman binatbat sa international research scene. UP
    should set the standard requiring PhD instructors in all its tertiary
    classes, so medicore unis like Ateneo, etc… will follow suit

    • ricci santiago

      @google-01e81ab10a4994cc988574bf94504e09:disqus  – having a PHD doesnt necessarily mean he/she is a good professor. good work experience is much better. that is much better than a PHD.

    • Anonymous

      no budget means lower retention rating or small possibility of hiring the best professors in SUC’s with or without PhD. So your suggestion is next to impossible for UP. Yung mga prof na naiiwan sa UP…martyr na ang mga iyan.

  • Anonymous

    it is best to put our funds in elementary and high school education. quality education must be the priority on those levels.  adding one year, like preschooling is a welcome move inthe elemental level but in the high school, i think there is no need.  what i suggest is to lessen the number of students per class and in this level,this is where they should start their career choices. an aptitude test given after the first year level would determine the path for them. hence the career subjects preparation levels from 2nd year to 4th year must be incorporated to the standard scope of subjects. it means an dditional one day a week in school or an addition of 1 hour per day.

  • Anonymous

    When i was in college i have to take Arnis and folkdancing prerequisite subjects…now i realize it is all a waste of time…sayang lang. My kids now almost always have dances and singing and what have you every holiday and special day which never ends…the point is, the educational system should focus on academic excellence..i never plan for my kids to be dancers in Japan or singers in Korea…ewan ko ba kutura ng mga paaralan ngayon..

    • Pheelyp Aytona

      I believe the purpose of exposing children to different experiences is to make them not just better workers in the future but also better people. By having a holistic education that deals with culture, one would/should be more appreciative, tolerant and open-minded – traits that are not measured as “academic excellence” but are nevertheless important not just in the workplace but also in one’s civic, family and personal life.

  • Anonymous

    Education is definitely a key factor in rating a country and its people’s competitiveness. However, it cannot be viewed independently. Competitiveness and success are multifaceted and multidimensional. A tetrahedron may be used to best illustrate the interdependence of education with the overall holistic social dimensions–four equally important sides mutually intersecting with each other to form the sum total of a nation’s character and destiny. In their order of importance, these are: leadership, economics, education, and culture. Leadership is first and foremost: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Without leadership, we may all end up climbing a tall ladder which may be resting on the “wrong wall.” Good leadership leads to good economics, naturally. Good economics affords good education, not to mention a decent life. And good education forms and builds a great culture, with excellent manners and right conducts. No singular attribute can stand by itself. Each side of the tetrahedron is as good and as important as any other side. To default or sacrifice on one side will compromise all the other sides. It’s a one for all, all for one principle. How would we describe our culture today? Nationalistic or individualistic? How can we build-up a great culture if many cannot even afford to go to school? For those who are able to go to school, do they even graduate with the right courses given by qualified institutions? How can our young go to school if their parents have no decent incomes. What becomes of our learning foundations if our homes are bereft of leadership? Absentee father? Absentee mother? Just look at what is happening to the great America. Leadership+Economics+Education+Culture=On Top of The World.

    • Anonymous

      i agree to all what you say and also in using america as a rightful example. you are correct that if one of the attributes is faltering, all the others are affected. in my view america is not at its best, its economy is spiraling downward due disintegrating moral values and home leadership. it is also not on top of the education ladder so to speak as can be gauged from QS.

      and on another point, we are wanting in nationalism because not all get to benefit from schooling which you stressed and if i may add regionalism could be a factor.

  • be honest

    So what does Philippine rank ?

  • labcu

    good basic elementary education is the key. how? the government must provide enough classrooms, enough educational materials, computers, fully equipped teachers, special interventions to differently abled/slow learners, provide school library, school canteen to provide balanced diet to school children at no/minimal cost, provide a school nurse, provide an indoor gymnassium, outside park/recreation facility, provide after school activities, provide teacher assistant for Pre-K to 1st grade, structured teaching strategies/methods, continuous teachers education and training, institutionalized emergency response/evacuation plan. As simple as this! Nasaan ang pinagmamalaki natin na free elementary and HS education for all?

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