The following is an eye-opening article by Filipino blogger, journalist and activist Mong Palatino on the state of Filipino youth in 2005. I got his permission to reproduce his article in full over here at my blog and am doing so because I think he has a lot of very provocative and important insights regarding the effect of free-market economic policies, privatization, and neo-liberal globalization in a society. What occurred to me in reading it is that what he was saying about Filipino youth could very well be what the near future might look like for middle and working class youth here in the U.S. The Philippine educational system and economy has been molded to a great degree according to free-market principles, deregulation and privatization with minimal interference by the state. The results speak for themselves and serve as a stark reminder on what future may be in store for U.S. society if it follows the same path.
Philippine Youth Situation (2005)
The Philippines is dominated by young people aged 13-35. Almost 20 million are enrolled in schools; 10 million are out-of-school youth; and 12 million are part of the labor force.
The Constitution, which recognizes the important role of young Filipinos in nation-building, guarantees the protection of the youth’s welfare. But the government continues to implement policies which hamper not only the progress of society but also the realization of the full potential of the youth.
A bright future for today’s youth is no longer possible under a regime which accepts and propagates the cardinal principles of the World Trade Organization: liberalization, deregulation and privatization.
Never has there been a government so callous in glorifying the WTO-sponsored programs of globalization even if there is an overwhelming evidence to show how these policies are destroying the education, employment and culture of the nation.
Paradox of education
It must be noted that the Philippines has a large school participation rate among students. It also has a high (basic) literacy rate. But this remarkable feature of the school system has not been a decisive factor in economic progress. Other Asian countries with less enrollment and low school index have robust economies while the Philippines continue to languish in the margins. This is referred by the scholars as the “paradox” of Philippine education.
The “paradox” can be explained by identifying the main characteristics of Philippine education: it is commercialized, abandoned by the State through decreasing subsidies and responsive to the needs of foreign countries and multinational corporations.
The WTO is further aggravating the crisis in Philippine education as it requires the government to introduce more reforms in the education system.
Elementary and high school instruction is free and compulsory in the Philippines. But the tertiary level is dominated by the private sector. The government allows tuition increases every year which explains the high drop-out incidence in college (73 percent). Courses offered by schools are determined for their profitability or marketability and not for their contribution to the national economy. The Philippines may be an agricultural nation but most of its students are enrolled in commerce, education and nursing courses.
Aside from its highly commercial nature, Philippine tertiary education is burdened by the pitiful government spending on education. In fact, the Philippines has one of the lowest funding for schools in Asia. It allots education a measly 16 percent (or 2.3 percent of the gross domestic product) of its national budget compared to 70 percent for debt service.
Perhaps the most disappointing orientation of Philippine education is its conformity to the manpower requirements of foreign countries and multinational corporations. This is manifested for example in: 1) the phenomenal increase of nursing and caregiver schools to meet the high demand in Western countries; and 2) the mania of policymakers and even educators to require the use of English as medium of instruction even though various studies explain how the use of the native language can improve student’s comprehension of science and math concepts.
Education for sale
Now here comes the WTO and General Agreement on Trade in Services or GATS.
The Philippines has already committed for the full implementation of GATS in the country. This explains the restructuring of education in recent years and the policies articulated by education bureaucrats on the viability of maintaining public universities.
The WTO and GATS intend, above all else, to transform education from “public good” into a private commodity. In the name of free competition, GATS requires signatory members to eliminate public subsidies in the service sector including education.
This is the reason why funding for social services is decreasing. In fact, the government is conditioning the minds of the public that subsidizing public colleges is a waste of taxpayers’ money. But the government cannot hide its complicity with WTO in destroying public education. The Long Term Higher Education Development Plan 2001-10 of the government aims to achieve the following in the next five years:
• Reduce the number of state universities by 20 percent;
• 6 state universities are semicorporatized in its operation;
• 20 percent of state universities are financially independent;
• 50 percent of state universities have active income generating projects;
• 70 percent of state universities have tuition comparable to private schools;
• 60 percent of state universities are actively collaborating with big industry and business.
We can also cite the enforcement of the Restructured Basic Education Curriculum (which reduced the number of subjects to five: filipino, science, math, english, makabayan) in elementary and high school as the government’s adherence to GATS’ provision of adapting the education system in response to the flexible production nature of big monopoly firms.
Even the government’s charter change proposal is dangerous for education since it has repeatedly proposed the deletion of “ultra-nationalist” provisions in the Constitution. At present, only Filipinos are allowed to own and manage schools in the country. The government may lobby for the removal of this provision since this is a violation of GATS.
Another government approach in fulfillment of its obligation to GATS is its encouragement, support and incredible defense of private schools. It supports initiatives which advance the interests of local and foreign capitalist-educators. By vilifying the quality and “overcrowding” of state universities in the country, the government is hoping the public would support the privatization of educational services.
This is anomalous since privatization of education is undertaken in other countries where education is heavily subsidized by the State while in the Philippines, the government is complaining of spending too much money on education even though 90 percent of tertiary schools are privately owned.
According to the government’s youth agency, out of 100 Filipino students who enter school, 12 will graduate from college and only 1 will be employed. There is a mismatch in the type of graduates we produce and the available jobs since education caters to the needs of other countries. Therefore, it is not surprising that 1 out of 3 Filipinos (aged 18-25) want to leave the country because their skills are not maximized, appreciated and well-compensated in the Philippines.
According to the same government agency, around 20,000 young Filipinos leave the country everyday in search for better job opportunities. The government promotes overseas deployment of workers as a permanent economic policy even though these Filipinos will be highly vulnerable to various forms of abuses like culture shock, discrimination and harsh working conditions. The exodus of skilled professionals has a negative impact on the economy.
The Philippines is also known for having a large number of educated unemployed. These Filipinos are lured to accept menial jobs and if they are lucky, employment in outsourcing companies which are popular among the youth today.
Young workers complain of cheap wages and poor implementation of labor laws and standards. The government maintains this policy to attract more foreign investors in the country.
There is a slow pace of job creation since the economy is in a seemingly perpetual depression. The government should be faulted for this situation since its more than enthusiastic support for liberalization meant the unrestricted flow of imported products to the detriment of local producers. This is the reason why few jobs are created by the economy.
The debilitating effects of the labor and education policies of the government account for the cynicism and hopelessness which many young Filipinos feel today. They leave the country in droves because they sense no bright future for them in the Philippines. Those who remain are resigned to the destituteness of the country.
The poverty which afflicts the majority forces a large number of youth to commit different anti-social activities. According to a conservative estimate of the government, about 60,000 are pushed into prostitution every year. Almost two million are living in the streets. It is reported that 20,000 are in conflict with the law every year.
The education system molds students into blind worshippers of foreign culture (especially US culture) instead of being proud defenders of our local tradition. The schools, media, Church and government promote conformity instead of critical thinking. Commercialism has almost invaded all facets of Philippine life.
Instead of respecting different cultures and celebrating diversity, which is its earlier promise, globalization has only reduced the world into one big commodity.
The youth movement in the Philippines is dedicated in gathering the biggest number of young Filipinos to oppose the policies of the WTO. It believes that the starting point of the campaign is to inform and educate the public about the real effects of the WTO on the lives of different communities.
The youth movement can bank on its nationwide presence in major schools and communities to succeed in its avowed goals. It can expect to reap major victories because it employs different modes of actions and forms of struggle. Its most important strength is its brave and loyal membership which is decisive in influencing more people to join the movement for meaningful changes in society and the world.
The youth movement faces the real danger of a government with fascist tendencies. The Philippines is a dangerous place for journalists and political activists. Youth organizations must be more than cautious in its grassroots building and other activities where the government deploys military troops.
The youth movement is prepared to sustain its earlier victories in opposing some of the WTO policies in education. It can learn from the creative and sustained actions of high school students when they opposed the proposal of the government to impose additional year for unqualified students even though there is no increase in funding for education. The public indignation over the bloated funding of debt service at the expense of social services must be harnessed into one potent force. The government’s earlier admission that they failed to regulate fees must be maximized to demand more reforms in tuition collection.
Indeed, the future is bleak for Filipino youth because of a government subservient to foreign dictates. But this does not mean the fight is already over. Because the Filipino youth is at the forefront of the battle for a better nation, humane world and a prosperous future. – (December 2005, Hong Kong)