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Education on the back burner yet again

President Duterte’s recent State of the Nation Address, at its core, is a call for everyone to “have the courage to fight for what we believe in, undeterred by the fear of failing or losing.”

“Indeed,” he says, “courage knows no limits, cowardice does.”

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His national agenda is simple and straightforward: “What we want is genuinely to reduce the vulnerabilities of our people, build resiliency and empower individuals, and families and communities.”

The President’s first Sona essentially affirms his conviction to make good on his campaign promises. It also reveals his very sober appreciation of the fact that he has so many problems to deal with right away, and a whole lot more fires to put out before things get out of hand.

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However, after the appointments of Leonor Briones to the Department of Education and Guiling Mamondiong to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and the presumed retention of Patricia Licuanan at the Commission on Higher Education, the President has yet to reveal in detail what he has in mind for Philippine education.

In 2009, Mario Taguiwalo wrote: “Education reform of the right type, scale and scope cannot occur under any political regime. Many education reformers, past and present, including many of us, have wasted credibility, public support and so much goodwill because they thought they could pursue education reform under a dictatorship, or under a regime ridden with corruption, or under an administration that cheats its way to power. Many education reformers have ended up sacrificing the longer-term viability of authentic reform by believing that education reform can be pursued under the political authority of an illegitimate or corrupt administration. It is time that we confront[ed] this harsh reality: education reform of the right type, scale and scope can only truly happen in a political regime with legitimate democratic mandate and with capacity and commitment for good governance.”

Taguiwalo, since deceased, proved to be correct because when the Aquino administration assumed power in 2010, it consistently showed that it had the political will to successfully pursue major education reform initiatives like the K-to-12 Law, the Ladderized Education Act, the Tertiary Education Transition Fund, the Distance Learning Law, and the CHEd’s Higher Education Reform Agenda.

The President has said that his administration will pursue reforms that “ensure competitiveness and promote ease of doing business.” Thus, he will do all he can to bring in more investments to develop labor-intensive industries, such as manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. He forgot to mention the biggest job generator of them all: the IT and business process management industry.

He adds: “We must also invest in human capital and ensure equal access to economic opportunities. When employment is not an option, for instance in extremely rural neighborhoods, entrepreneurship will be advocated.”

Human capital directly relates to global competitiveness, and quality education is its key component. Even if so much headway has been made, it is not enough to just build on these. The academic achievement of our young learners still leaves much to be desired, especially when ranged against their counterparts in Asean and the rest of the world. Our technical vocational institutions need to build up their capability to train people in advanced technologies. Our higher education institutions need to work much more closely with the people that hire their graduates.

Putting education and human capital formation on the back burner simply will not do, because a strong education system is, in the words of Inquirer founding chair Eggie Apostol, “the best weapon against poverty.”

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The advancement of human capital is far more urgent than the eradication of the drug menace with lethal force. The former inevitably leads to a healthier, more productive society. The latter is a blood-drenched war where so many people die and nobody wins.

In his inaugural address, the President said: “Erosion of faith and trust in government—that is the real problem that confronts us. Resulting therefrom, I see the erosion of the people’s trust in our country’s leaders; the erosion of faith in our judicial system; the erosion of confidence in the capacity of our public servants to make the people’s lives better, safer and healthier.”

Taguiwalo offered a way through as early as 2008, when he said: “Our political situation remains fragile, with a public deeply distrustful and dissatisfied with our political leaders and institutions. In the midst of this deepening darkness and increased difficulties, much of which could be with us for months and even years ahead, we make this statement of hope and faith that, we, the Filipino people, can act in solidarity and with purpose to secure our future, our children’s future and the future of Filipinos yet to come. Better education is our light through crisis.”

It will take someone as strong-willed as Rodrigo Duterte to do one thing no other president has ever done: depoliticize Philippine education. This means letting competency, merit and community aspirations prevail over partisan politics in the hiring and promotion of teachers, in the selection and appointment of key education executives and leaders, and even in the funding and creation of education institutions. If he can do this, then genuine, deep-seated change for the greater good will truly be realized.

Butch Hernandez ([email protected]) is the executive director of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: CHEd, Commission on Higher Education, Department of Education, DepEd, education, Guiling Mamondiong, Leonor briones, Mario taguiwalo, Patricia Licuanan, Rodrigo Duterte, Sona, State of the Nation Address, Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, Tesda
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