No Free Lunch

Education for entrepreneurship

/ 09:38 PM September 23, 2013

We constantly lament how millions of our compatriots have had to go abroad to seek gainful employment, lacking opportunities for decent work here at home. While overseas employment has brought billions of dollars into the country (now amounting to about $28 billion a year), this has come at great cost borne by millions of Filipinos suffering the ill effects of fragmented if not altogether broken families. This is not to mention the physical and emotional hardship, and occasional abuse, that overseas Filipino workers must put up with where they work.

A foreign writer once described us as “one nation, overseas”—noting our seemingly peculiar situation of having a much more substantial portion of our population than usual working in foreign lands. One finds many explanations for this phenomenon, including our traditionally poor economic performance with the consequent lack of employment opportunities here at home, and a natural wanderlust among our people that has led Filipinos to establish a presence in virtually every corner of the globe. There is also our proficiency in the English language, coupled with our cultural adaptability owing to our colonial history, which makes it so easy for Filipinos to fit in anywhere in the world—more, it would seem, than most other Asians do. And so on.


My own favorite theory is that our educational system has traditionally failed to foster enough entrepreneurship among our citizens. That is, our schools have been training our people too much to become employees, rather than employers.  Surveys have shown that most of our young people aspire, once they finish schooling, to work for others rather than work for themselves and create work for others. I have always argued that if only more Filipinos were of the latter kind, then jobs wouldn’t be as scarce as they have been in our country over the years.

What is entrepreneurship-oriented education like?


First, it drives students to be creators, not mere replicators. One gets the sense that too many of our teachers think of education simply as a process of transferring information, which is good for turning out trivia quiz contest champions, but will not produce problem-solvers. Others see it a level higher—i.e., as imparting knowledge, which is of a higher order than information. Information pertains to facts, while knowledge pertains to concepts. But this is not enough. True education imparts not merely knowledge but  wisdom, or the ability to organize and make good use of knowledge toward improving people’s lives.

I believe that the emphasis on teaching science and mathematics in our schools can be carried too far, particularly if it’s at the expense of teaching the liberal arts, humanities and social studies including history. It is these latter disciplines that impart deeper wisdom to students, and must not be neglected in the pursuit of competitiveness in science and mathematics. As we pursue the K to 12 curriculum, our education planners would do well to keep this in mind.

One may even argue that in this age of information and communication technology, teachers should be less concerned about providing information, which students can readily access by themselves from books and electronic media including the Internet. But effective education stimulates in students the hunger for information and knowledge, and provokes them to seek these on their own. More importantly, it trains them to make good use of information and knowledge toward solving everyday problems and meeting society’s challenges.

Second, entrepreneurship-oriented education trains students for effective social interaction, which is key to successful entrepreneurship. This will not be achieved in a teacher-centered classroom where communication proceeds largely one-way from the teacher to some 40-60 students preoccupied with taking notes. More advanced educational systems promote student-centered classrooms where they are encouraged to interact and work as teams. The effectiveness of the educational system hinges not only on the content but, equally important, on the manner and process by which education takes place, whether in or out of the classroom.

Teacher training, then, involves far more than equipping them with technical competence (i.e., more information and knowledge). More importantly, it should also train them to be effective facilitators of gaining wisdom.

Third, entrepreneurship-oriented education encourages students to discover, experiment and take risks. Risk-taking is second nature to good entrepreneurs. A nation of seguristas cannot be a progressive nation. Many of us like to lament how too many Filipino businessmen seem content with imitating and copying others’ successful businesses, rather than creating and pursuing new business ideas. Our history of an import-substituting industrial policy derives from this attitude, and has led us to a tradition of protectionism whose continuing vestiges still slow us down today in the face of the impending Asean Economic Community. Risk-taking and innovation are not something one learns from books, but are fostered through the approach and manner by which education is delivered by our schools and teachers.

Most of us now recognize that our educational system is the first place we should look in seeking the key to inclusive economic development. As we constantly strive to improve the way we educate our children, it is well worth remembering that our objective is to create a new generation of Filipinos who will not merely be earners of incomes, but creators  of  wealth.


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