Sunday, August 2, 2015

We don’t have to be farther back

“Learning from Singapore,” Michael L. Tan, Pinoy Kasi, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22nd Jul 2015. “It used to be that Asians would point to some western country, usually the United States or Britain, as the model to emulate. In the last decade or so, it’s been Singapore.”

“Singapore’s universities have consistently been ranked among the top 10 in various ratings, with the National University of Singapore (NUS) ranking first, beating many venerable centuries-old British and American universities. To say the least, then, Singapore can be intimidating for administrators.

“Last May I joined administrators from six other Philippine universities—all government-run except for two—for a brief study-visit in Singapore that took us through the NUS, the Nanyang Technological University and the Singapore Management University.

“First, while Singapore is a leader in the development of new information technologies, its educational system is going back to the basics of group learning, folded into the technologies. The Nanyang Technological University, for example, has reconfigured all its classrooms, moving away from the rows of seats where students listen to teachers lecturing, to each classroom having hexagonal tables, each with its own computer screen so students can work together and present results of their group work.

“Perhaps most emblematic of this approach to education are the ‘huddle rooms,’ small places where students can study in groups . . . The huddle rooms are high-tech, but based on the much older principles of collective and collaborative work, encouraging students to learn together, speak up and challenge each other, even as they come to a consensus. It is a blend of independent thinking, articulation and consensus that I would like to see in our schools.

“In many ways it goes back to older East Asian methods of teaching and learning, emphasizing group work and hard work. This is in contrast to western styles emphasizing individuals competing with each other. This group approach is crucial for success in science and technology. I fear that in the Philippines—and the University of the Philippines in particular—we are encouraging more of individual achievements and even combative styles of academic performance (just look at how faculty members attack each other and students rather than address basic issues). All this creates a meanness of spirit that erodes the academic environment. I fear especially for our students who will go out into the world thinking it’s mean-spirited aggressiveness that will get them ahead.”

Some postings ago, this blog discussed the shortcomings of the Western educational system from the perspective of industry: teamwork, communication and critical thinking. And it’s no wonder Singapore’s universities given the “huddle rooms” and “collective and collaborative work where students are encouraged to learn together, speak up and challenge each other and even come to a consensus . . . are beating many venerable centuries-old British and American universities.”

And given the American influence in our educational system, should we be surprised that “faculty members attack each other and students rather than address basic issues”? Because “we are encouraging more of individual achievements and even combative styles of academic performance”?

But ‘crab mentality’ and its resulting chaos is something we don’t want in our educational system, beyond what we see in politics, governance and society at large? “According to the Hanjin plan, by 2010, the Phividec facility would be building ocean-going vessels. They expected that by 2012, Hanjin in Phividec would be earning $1.7 billion in exports of ocean-going vessels.” [The discontinued Hanjin project in northern Mindanao: Large foreign direct investments and local governments, Gerardo P. Sicat, CROSSROADS (Toward Philippine Economic and Social Progress), The Philippine Star, 22nd Jul 2015]

“The project failed to see the light of day. Local politics and the insensitive acts of local government officials killed the project. They interceded in the critical steps toward the construction of the project . . . I blame the failure of the project squarely on the local mayors of the municipalities of Tagaloan and Villanueva. These municipalities bordered the Hanjin shipbuilding project from east and west. The local mayors played to the hilt their local power over a major investor to the point the investor decided to stop the project cold.

“A project that is as large and with regional and national importance should not be left to the whims of local politicians playing their little games. The national government should have managed the process fully. In this instance, the Phividec should have played a strong hand and settled the major local issues with the national government agencies so the project would go through. Both failed to do their job and let local issues trump the project.”

Is that why the JFC’s 7 industry winners have fallen by the wayside? If we are to be a developed economy, this blog has argued, we don’t have to go very far for inspiration. We can create Philippine Inc. modeled after Japan Inc. or Singapore Inc., even China Inc. That is how the Asian Tigers developed a competitive platform and successfully moved beyond agriculture and services and into industry.

But that precisely demands a strong government role – not unfettered free market – in defining and focusing on a handful of industry where we can be competitive. It means going beyond OFW remittances and BPOs – that have become our fixation if not pride and joy. A competitive larger pie will spawn a more robust MSMEs via intermediate industries and beyond. Yet to prioritize is not in our nature – and why our economic managers are looking at 40-50 industries. Sadly, reflective of our crab mentality? When what we need is visionary and strategic leadership!

And to overcome crab mentality – and dismantle a culture of impunity – we must shun political patronage. “Villegas urged the voters to help end the system of cultural patronage in the country now. ‘(Please) do not tempt our public officials because if you make excessive demands on public officials, you might be forcing them to live beyond their means,’ he said. ‘We should not promote a culture of patronage in our relationship with politicians.’” [Archbishop Villegas asks voters to end political patronage now, Ador Vincent MayolInquirer Visayas, 19th Jul 2015]

Because it is consistent with what CJ Panganiban calls “kinship” – a trap even for justices? What more of family dynasties? “Politicians have all the arguments in favor of a political dynasty because their stay in public office can be protected by this system that converts public office into an abundant source of livelihood . . . The 1986 Con-Com left to Congress the idea of crafting an anti-dynasty law.  But the prohibition was left untouched for more than 28 years and the pending bill now has not encouraged much support . . . In Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces, people are too familiar with political families who promoted dynasties and benefitted from tax money . . .” [After 28 years, anti-dynasty provision faces ‘prescription,’Atty. Romeo Pefianco, Manila Bulletin, 22nd Jul 2015]

How do we not lag that far behind a Singapore? How does the private sector respond when faced with a similar challenge? They aspire to be learning organizations, where ‘knowledge workers’ won’t suffice. Because continuous leaning is what the 21st century demands. “In 1997, Harvard Business Review identified [Peter Senge’s] The Fifth Discipline as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years.” [Wikipedia]

“Learning organizations are those organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together. [Senge] argues that only those organizations that are able to adapt quickly and effectively will be able to excel . . . Rather than focusing on the individuals within an organization it prefers to look at a larger number of interactions within the organization and in between organizations as a whole.”

The bottom line: Singapore will continue to dominate if we can’t toss our archaic worldview – a parochial bias that feeds crab mentality and a culture of impunity. And we must rapidly move Philippine education beyond ‘knowledge is power’ to ‘learning is power.’ That means equipping our graduates to excel in group work and the requisite competencies of communication and critical thinking that teamwork demands. And engender the ethos of community and the common good – beyond self, family (and political dynasties.)

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