This is the real world | Inquirer Opinion
YoungBlood

This is the real world

How does the “real world” appeal to your imagination? Much of what it paints, I suppose, is suffering: taxes, poverty, survival at large, you name it.

As a college student, I often encounter professors who say that our life inside the university isn’t the “real world” yet. College, as they say, is a preparation for “real life,” waiting to be unlocked after graduation.

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My daily mantra, therefore, is to never procrastinate. The moment I am notified of new tasks, I immediately comply with them ahead of their deadlines. It’s a tried and tested strategy that gets things done efficiently—for not only can I submit them on time, I still have more time to revise them to ensure their quality. But just when I think I no longer have tasks, another set of tasks piles up, weekly. Hence, accomplishing my top priorities calls for some sacrifices: Apart from forgoing campus journalism and other nonacademic affiliations, sleep is also sacrificed.

Daily and hourly, there is desperation to survive, insofar as education feels like a scholarly arena whose students and even teachers fall prey to a vicious cycle of burnout. Here, I met diverse people whose goal is the same as mine: survive college, and by “survive,” not only do I mean academically, but also emotionally and financially.

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Thus, if colleges and universities are really separated, why do they mirror the realities in the so-called “real world?”

Separating ourselves from the “outside world” holds a dangerous implication as it normalizes the status quo. We’re so consumed by that idea as though we are trapped inside an echo chamber, unable to realize that we’ve been exposed to the culprit—the real threat—within our education system: neoliberalism.

Basically, it favors the free markets and minimal government control; therefore, it serves the interests of the capitalists in propagating market-like policies and privatizing services. Privatization makes the government, along with the ineffective education agencies, rely on the capitalists’ directives. Unfortunately, education became costly and inaccessible due to our commercialized education system.

Our education system aligns with the global economy’s labor demands; no wonder we are trained to be competitive even at the point of burnout. While neoliberalism may seem promising, it is but an exploitative, profit-driven scheme hiding beneath the layers of good intentions. It turns education into “commodities” rather than a social good that bears an intrinsic value. Think of this as a market, and we are the intended consumers who bear the weight of its demanding and costly ramifications.

Most of the labor force, despite the efforts and sacrifices, are underpaid, with some working contractually—like the teachers themselves. Like them, we overwork ourselves in order to survive, and it takes a lot of sacrifices in our definition of success.

Moreover, to survive college financially, some are not only students but also part-time workers just to meet their financial needs. We don’t get enough sleep. We skip meals. We finish the piled-up workload within a short deadline. We always beat ourselves up in order to prove our worth, even at the expense of our health and well-being. The impact is so strong that it makes us feel guilty when we’re not doing any academic work, as though our self-worth is tied to our productivity.

And yet, as our education system tells us, complaining is counterproductive and, to some degree, punishable; therefore, our struggles are reduced to the concept of a “process” that shapes our productivity, resilience, and competence. Adjusting is necessary because, unfortunately, the system won’t.

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Our education system equips us with “necessary” skills, all while treating us as cogs in a machine. But our persistence, despite the unhealthy and costly consequences, stems from external motivation that neoliberal ideology inculcates: wealth and success that promote desperate measures and unethical behaviors among students in the name of survival and social approval. Why do students compete with each other for the honor roll? Why do they collect awards? How do these awards, which will be reflected in CVs, speak of themselves for employability? What motivates them to cheat or outperform others?

Unfortunately, our system fuels individualistic goals as it emphasizes competition, measurement, and wealth-driven ambition. But the threats of neoliberalism are hidden by a well-crafted indoctrination: Teachers are expected to be neutral only, albeit oxymoronic, for neoliberal policies condition us that institutions are deemed politics-free zones.

But everything is political. Neutrality is, in fact, a political choice that preserves the status quo plagued by injustices. And education is, in and of itself, political, which may manifest from the textbook to our curriculum. The idea that institutions are separated from the “outside world” veers us away from the off-campus issues that directly or indirectly affect us: contractualization, high inflation rate, EJKs, exploitation, and state-perpetuated human rights violations, to name a few.

We are conditioned to believe that the real world can only be experienced after graduation—when we’re starting to look for job opportunities which, by the way, doesn’t always guarantee employment and decent living.

The “outside world,” in truth, is parallel to our, dare I say, scholarly panopticons, only that they differ to some degree. Our lives, as students, are never separated from the lives of the labor force—the toiling masses at large. Thus, our education system is a prelude to an unfair, alienating, and dehumanizing mode of production; it confines us within a ceaseless cycle of survival full of sacrifices—just like in the so-called “real world.”

Peter Dominique I. Panga, 22, is a second-year student, taking up secondary education, major in English. He lives in Iriga City, Camarines Sur. He believes that education is a right, not a privilege.

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