Wednesday, May 24, 2017

“A future . . . ultimately . . . beyond any of us”

“Through Apple’s new headquarters, Steve Jobs was planning the future of Apple itself—a future beyond him and, ultimately, beyond any of us.” [One More Thing: Inside Apple’s insanely great (or just insane) new mothership, Steven Levy,, 16th May 2017]

If that’s the concept behind the new Apple HQs, shouldn’t it be the philosophy behind Philippine higher education? “If one should advance the proposition that university and college education must guarantee the employability of the graduate—and therefore curriculum must match industry, market and governmental needs, there will be virtually unanimous, even enthusiastic, concurrence!” [The colonization of higher education, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, Pensées, Manila Standard, 15th May 2017]

And then Fr. Aquino would make the point: “There is nothing that impoverishes a nation more than citizens with emaciated spirits and shriveled souls! The academic is by definition left-of-center! It is the refusal to accept established answers, the choice to avoid the well-trod course . . . [O]ne must be unshackled from the demands of the quotidian and the enslavement of the commonplace, the imperialism of the ‘way things are’—lured by the prospect of ‘how things can be’ . . . In fact, many of the discoveries and inventions that have given modernity its present configuration were not the products of specialists . . . That breed will soon be extinct if we allow the present colonization of higher education to go unchecked.”

Thank God, Fr. Aquino is not alone. “Living life well, or general education versus professional education, Gerardo P. Sicat,” CROSSROADS TOWARD (PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS), The Philippine Star, 10th May 2017.

“For some time now, a controversy on the content of education in the University of the Philippines has been raging. It is, in a way, the battle of the ages on the nature of education . . . The professional schools want to cut the amount of time spent on students to learn more ‘general education,’ or GE, courses which are outside their field of specialized studies.

“The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – which incidentally is also my alma mater – has one of the clearest statements on the importance of GE courses. From its general admission statements in its University catalogue:

“MIT provides a substantial and varied program in the humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) that forms an essential part of the education of every undergraduate. This program is intended to ensure that students develop a broad understanding of human society . . . The requirement enables students to deepen their knowledge in a variety of cultural and disciplinary areas and encourages the development of sensibilities and skills vital to an effective and satisfying life . . . and a member of society.”

A broad understanding of human society. Is that what Juan de la Cruz lacks and why our sense of community and the common good is suspect at best?

And why we’re the regional laggard . . . while our neighbors, one after the other, turned into economic tigers? More to the point, our efforts to extol the OFW phenomenon and more recently the BPO industry, in our desire to address unemployment and poverty, proved that they’re not only short-sighted but even more reinforced our parochial and insular instincts – and put us on a slippery slope.

But we are a poor people! Because we chose to be foolish, and built upon the sand – and are caught in a vicious circle of our own making.

“For a society to thrive, members of that society must live in such a way that they create conditions of trust, cooperation, interdependence and safety – the conditions that make up social capital.” []

Social capital, defined as ‘the social networks and the norms of trustworthiness and reciprocity that arise from them,’ is a powerful predictor of many social goods, including people’s health and happiness, levels of economic development, well-working schools, safe neighborhoods, and responsive government.” [Social Capital Building Toolkit, Thomas Sander/Kathleen Lowney, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University]

The commitment to the common good is why a society thrives. Beyond creating the condition of trust is the condition of cooperation, of interdependence and of safety.

On the other hand, “Why does corruption survive?”, Henry J. Schumacher, BusinessMirror, 20th Mar 2017. “The conditions for corruption to arise are ubiquitous. Its survival, however, depends upon four conditions:

“The first condition necessary for the emergence of corruption is that there be rents associated with a government’s regulatory powers. Let us consider the rents associated with the sale of rights to serve the wireless market . . . Barring pathologically honest bureaucrats, an entrepreneur will collude with public officials to capture those rents . . . To prevent the private sale of public property, well-developed public institutions are needed to coordinate the responses of the losers and, hopefully, can prevent such deals in the first place.

“The second condition requires that corrupt bureaucracies be somewhat independent within the remaining (if honest) administrative structure of the government. External controls on the bureaucracy—whether imposed by the remainder of the administrative system or by society at large—must be weak. If some agents seem to get away with acts of corruption, the internal dynamics of a corrupt bureaucracy will motivate other bureaucrats to expend more effort on increasing the level of their illicit income.

“The third condition requires the public institutions controlling corruption be weak and ineffective. These institutions include civic groups that exert moral pressures, political parties and the media that could expose the wrongdoing, and the legal system that would have the authority to prosecute and punish the guilty.

“The fourth condition is a lack of whistle-blower protection. It is obvious that strange deals between government and the private sector and private sector to private sector (price fixing, collusion in biddings, bribing technical and purchasing staff, etc.) will only become known if people inside those companies become whistle blowers.”

The fact that foreigners are helping us get over the hump speaks volumes. Trust is lacking if not non-existent among us. And it explains our very low social capital. With a low trust-level, cooperation between and among people is not a given and so reciprocity and interdependence is absent. At the end of the day, Filipinos don’t feel safe and secure. 

The role of education – as well as of the church and family – is to educate us to have a broad understanding of human society and recognize the obligation to create the conditions of trust, cooperation, interdependence and safety. Or simply, be committed to community and the common good.

And given our hierarchical culture, the role of leadership becomes even more crucial. Marcos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo and Duterte, sadly, don’t measure up. We can argue and add more names.

But what about the challenge posed to higher education to guarantee the employability of the graduate? If it isn’t obvious yet, the blog quotes the Bible at times to make theological points. (The foolish man builds upon the sand is likewise the law of nature.) And it’s a force of habit – having been around the block.

Higher education is beyond employability and must be geared to the outcome that the graduate is committed to. A future ultimately beyond any of us. Is the graduate committed to be foolish or wise?

Where does our “crab mentality” come from? The blog also related this to the laws of physics or nature. Where there is mass and weight there is energy or power. That is why there is “the vital few” as against “the trivial many.” In one word, priority. We hate the word and, not surprisingly, have fallen victim to sub-optimization. And it explains our failure in infrastructure development, industrialization and urbanization. Which circles back to our bankruptcy – in social capital.

Being social-capital bankrupt, we are handicapped to be forward-looking and forward-thinking. And it explains why we elect and get the leadership that we deserve – promising overnight miracles.

There is even a debate to let our conglomerates thrive. It is our instincts to preserve the status quo – and, hand in glove, tyranny. Adam and Eve and the Soviets know better . . . Evolution . . . and . . . Development . . .

The writer was one of three outsiders invited in the early 90s by General Electric to meet with their management team when they decided they must transform themselves from a US domestic enterprise to a global one. Is that good or bad for PH? Think Singapore where their social capital is world-class and attracted over a trillion dollars in FDI (foreign direct investment.)

We cannot afford shortsightedness in our approach to higher education. The Philippines deserves a future ultimately beyond any of us.

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“National prosperity is created, not inherited. It does not grow out of a country’s natural endowments, its labor pool, its interest rates, or its currency’s value, as classical economics insists . . . A nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its industry to innovate and upgrade.” [The Competitive Advantage of Nations, Michael E. Porter, Harvard Business Review, March–April 1990]

“Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” [William Pollard, 1911-1989, physicist-priest, Manhattan Project]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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