Mr. Sta. Ana is the coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in the Yellow Pad column of BusinessWorld, April 19, 2005 edition, p. S1/5 .
Have you noticed how some schools package their services to attract
students to enroll? The ads they place tell much about the
current thrust of their education.
This summer, in a space of a couple of days, several institutions
placed advertisements in the highly circulated Philippine Daily
Inquirer. The Mapua Institute of Technology claims it offers
world-class education. The ad says, “at Mapua, we’ve set our
sights on serving the country and the world. It is a school that
“would take you places.” This awkward phrase reminds me of a
favorite line of a colorful if not grotesque character who in the 1960s
and 1970s was a living legend in UP Diliman. Love-struck but
loveless Danny Purple—that was how friends fondly called him—had an eye
for beauty, and he would woo a possible date with brave words:
“Stick with me; we will go places.” It turned out that these
places were in the Quiapo quarter, not far from the old Mapua campus.
Far Eastern University or FEU has a brassy ad. It says:
“FEU, your ticket to opportunities.” The background photo tells
everything: the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan’s
skyline. The message is clear; FEU serves as a passport to the
land of milk and honey.
More brazen is the ad of the Manila Times Language Institute: “Now, you can speak like an American in 3 months!”
The globalization fever has infected Philippine education. To be
precise, as seen in two examples above, we are gripped with
We cannot avoid having a globalist perspective. But it is
quite disturbing when globalization overwhelms national or local
needs. The thrust of some private schools, as the ads would
suggest, is to churn out graduates for overseas employment or supply
call centers with workers who can speak with an American accent.
Not bad in itself, but what has happened to the noble cause of making
education serve Philippine development?
The outward mindset of the private schools is common among Filipinos, especially our leaders and policy-makers.
It is of course possible to combine the global and national
perspectives. Let us look at some examples. Taming
inflation protects the purchasing power of the workers and other
low-income people. At the same time, it lowers the costs of doing
business for investors. Access to quality basic education
promotes human development and equalizes opportunity for all.
Additionally, it contributes to the nation’s competitive advantage.
But tension also exists between global and national perspectives. An
increase in nominal wages undoubtedly benefits the employees, but it is
a measure usually opposed by investors. A focus on corruption
that affects foreign investments (for instance, money-laundering) can
mean less resources and less time to combat petty corruption that the
common people have to bear in their transactions with government.
Such tension is excellently discussed in Dani Rodrik’s “Feasible
Globalizations,” (July 2002). Rodrik argues that policy-makers
can make the people’s demands or aspirations a constraint to
globalization or deeper economic integration. He posits that the
mix of globalization (deeper economic integration), nation state, and
democratic politics entails tradeoffs. He calls this the
“political trilemma of the world economy.” It is an impossible
trinity in the sense that only two can go together at a time to meet
desirable development outcomes.
Nation-states are expected to protect the people’s interests. On
the other hand, global institutions lack legitimacy and
accountability. They are not as attentive and as responsive as
nation-states to the demands of national citizens.
In the last two decades of the last century, many nation-states adopted
an all-out globalization strategy in pursuit of growth, but this meant
restraining if not neglecting people’s needs and interests. But
because of mounting pressure from below—mass politics—and because their
economies stagnated or deteriorated in spite of economic integration,
some nation-states (Argentina, being the best example), have slowed
down the process of globalization.
Society takes its cue from government on how to handle the tensions
between global demands and national interests. For this reason,
to return to the tacky advertisements, we cannot totally blame the
private schools for a misguided orientation. They are just
following government’s signal.