Friday, March 21, 2008

ZTE, Education and Action

By Orlando Ali Mandane, Ph.D
University of San Carlos

The economic facts lay bare before us the harsh reality of our social life: a great majority of the Filipinos share the same economic misery. The high economic growth rate of 7% only means for this country a number to brag, not something to be proud of. Surely, numbers are an inexact representation of our true condition. But in a way, these numbers reveal what policy makers cannot obfuscate: for millions of Filipinos, GDP growth rate does not ring a bell to them; it does not metamorphose into buwad (dried fish) or tinapa (sardines).

Do these economic indicators give us a true picture of the quality of life? The poor may be in penury but does this condition amount to excessive unhappiness? This brings me to an anecdote often used to bring a certain point:

A western man saw a fisherman lying on his hammock while luxuriating at the panoramic sea. The western man, puzzled by what the latter was doing, asked, “Why don’t you go out to the sea and catch fish?” The fisherman replied, “What for?” The western man said, “So that you can catch fish and sell them.” The fisherman asked, “And then?” The western man replied, “Well, you can have money and then enjoy life?” The fisherman retorted, “What do you think am I doing now?”

This story, often abused as a paradigmatic example, always gives the impression that the quality of life is never measured by pecuniary considerations. But when one analyzes this story in the context of a fisherman’s life, a more telling point is revealed. The fisherman is able to do so, to luxuriate in the hammock even to the point of dreaming about Marimar, because he performs his role as a provider often at dusk or dawn and seldom at daytime. He does so only if he has assured that his family is provided for even for just a day. Thus, while economic situation is not the only measure of well-being, it cannot be taken out of the equation.

Material assurance, however, cannot be the true measure of our well being. For one, I notice that those who take nursing courses in private institutions are the ones who have relatives in the US or elsewhere outside the country, and the easier visa that they can get is a nurse’s working visa. And then, there are doctors who wanted to be nurses. These examples are often a good rebuttal to pecuniary happiness. Thus, economic security cannot impress upon us as a true measure of our well-being—economic insecurity, too.

What is then wrong with our current situation? A nation that relies much on the remittances of the OFWs but does not provide livelihood which its people can rely on is doomed. When we export our own “wealth”, when we export the backbone of our nation, we are in for a whole of lot of trouble. When our government makes us believe that we can turn a blind eye on what is happening because they can produce the most promising data on the economy, our own well being is at stake. Our own freedom is on the line.

Indeed, social equality and justice is in no certain terms measured by the income of the family. While “the real extent of deprivation may be underestimated if we concentrate only on the size of incomes,” the family income as a gauge may not also overestimate our own well being. This is why I frown upon the “economic data” as a discourse that will have a final say on the true picture of our social reality. Because our officials in the government can always make us believe that the only way to live a better life is to have an education and find a job. And, there is no other way.

Unfortunately, this virulent thinking infects even the attitude of people toward education. The thinking is: learn to speak English well and work in call centers (with due respect to all call center agents); or, be a nurse and go abroad (again with due respect to all nurses). This is not to belittle what they do. In the first place, we have no way of keeping them here because the dusk or dawn is fast approaching; they, too, need to catch fish. In some ways, they have to eke out a living, or even better. My high regards are to them. But education has become an ideological tool of our government to dissuade us from complaining. Our government can always tell our people: we will create a million jobs for you.

The ZTE deal and the apparent abduction of Jun Lozada awaken us to our senses and even make us remember the “Hello Garci!’, an issue that time seems to have erased. Ironically, the ZTE deal has a component project for education, which could have been wasted had the deal pushed through. The issue has moral, social and political aspects which cannot just be set aside and laid to rest. We set this issue aside, we provide an example no generation can be proud of. We set this aside, we teach the youth to close their eyes to a wrong.

This brings me to why I would advocate bringing the youth to the streets and make them discern about the issue. Why bring them to the streets when the classrooms are ideal for discussing the issue? Again, our government—all other sectors who sing the same tune included—has the habit of asking us not to complain because the economy is promising; it can always tell us not to follow the activists of the past who are unable to finish their education. Sadly, nothing is what it seems. What economic data it can insist on, other data can reveal.

Education is our hope? Forget it. UNESCO’s world education indicator of 2006 (wei 2006) reveals that the government’s spending on educational institutions per student in tertiary level is less that $2000 compared to Malaysia’s annual expenditure $13,000 per student (adjusted to Purchasing Power Parity). In the secondary level, the spending of the Philippines follows Sri Lanka and Indonesia in the lowest spending level of $139. Worse, the age range when 90% of the population is enrolled is 8-13 years. And, the number of years of which 90% of the population is enrolled is 6 years. Far worse, only 24% of the population for the age of 17 goes to school. In addition, of all the students enrolled in the tertiary level, most of them, if statistics is anything to go by, will only be spending 1.4 years in school. And, 22% of the enrollees stayed on to have a degree.

This brings me to my point. Why bring the students to the streets and make them air their complaints to the unwilling ear? Indeed, why would I advocate the bringing of students to the streets when economic “deprivation” has done a good job of keeping them away? Obviously, the ones who stay can afford to pay for the education; they have the money. Or, their parents can still make ways to pay for their education. These are the ones who should not be insulated from these issues because in the end they will take part in the political discourse. They are the ones who should have the sense of justice and sensibility for the economically deprived because their degrees are often passports to government service or to policy making positions.

By all means, we urge them to wrestle with the thoughts of the great minds—they ought not to settle for less. We urge them to analyze the political thoughts of great minds. By all means, we let them read Rawls or Pogge. But we cannot insulate them from these issues; they too will become men or women. We can even make the street their classrooms or libraries. For when corruption creeps into the procurement process—assuming it did not yet—as in the case of Department of Education's, they will have no books to read. Not even Sartre’s or Hobbes’. But they have the wealth of social reality to interpret, even if it is found in the parliament of the street. We can push them to read in the same manner that I required my students to read texts in metaphysics no matter how difficult modality, time, and causality are. We can extend the classroom to the streets because the “possibility” of this event—this folly—is so real in the “space-time” continuum “because” of this highly educated people in government. How else can they better appreciate Nietzsche’s “eternal recurrence” now that they are faced with a government laden with everything wrong. Given that they know that things will be repeated eternally, are they going to let “fraud”, “dishonesty”, and “executive privilege” be? Eternally?