Sunday, June 01, 2014

The heirs

FEWER will be in thrall of June this year.

I, for one, study and will later return to teaching at the University of the Philippines (UP), which has shifted its school year to August-May from June-March.

Other colleges are also dovetailing this year or next with the international academic calendar. According to GMA News, the Philippines was the last to make this shift among member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Like most students, I welcome any change that postpones a return to classrooms, papers and deadlines.

But as a teacher, it niggles that I understand very little of the so-called ASEAN integration, the impetus behind these tectonic shifts, not just in in our educational system but also in the economy, politics and security, and the rest of the socio-culture sphere.

Opportunities and risks lurk behind the realization of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015. This was stressed during the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, which was hosted by the country last week.

Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima cautioned the country from expecting a “big bang” when it joins nine other nations in comprising “One Asean” next year, reported the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The AEC will be a force to contend with: the third most populous region, with a combined community of 600 million; and the seventh largest economy, with a pooled gross domestic product of about $2 trillion.

Joining a bigger pond means pressure to stop thinking small. Purisima and other specialists said that the most important WEF takeaway was to plan how the Philippines can maximize the benefits of integration.

Investing in people, said Purisima, is the key. He emphasized the importance of education in helping Filipinos reap One Asean’s windfall in employment, trade, electronic commerce and overall growth.

Putting Filipinos at the center of education is the light glimpsed at the end of a long, dark tunnel. When UP Diliman delayed its concurrence with the shift of the academic calendar that the rest of the UP system had committed to, dissenters questioned the true beneficiaries of academic integration with One Asean: are we prioritizing foreigners or our own?

Proponents of internationalization pointed out that synchronizing globally means making the flow of benefits two-way: Filipino students and academics can take part in international summer trainings, which are in June and July; and foreign students need not enroll only in the second semester because their overseas graduation makes it too late for them to catch up with enrolment in June.

These arguments have a point while missing 99 percent of the whole picture. How will internationalization affect the primary grades and high school? When May ushered Brigada Eskwela this year, the communal practice of repairing, cleaning and preparing classrooms for the start of the school year underscored the perennial lack of useful classrooms.

This year, though, the problem is worsened by the ravages left by last year’s October earthquake and super typhoon Yolanda. Classrooms will still be a top concern in 2016, when the K-12 system will create the first batch of grade 11 senior high school students, who, under the old system, should be entering their first year of college.

Mixing the old (lack of classrooms) and new (ghost colleges, financial losses of private tertiary institutions, college faculty unemployment, problems of college loading and teacher retraining for high school) complicates the overall picture of education, even without the frame of internationalization.

Under the Asean Socio-cultural Community Blueprint, “advancing and prioritizing education” is the first strategy for human development. Most academic institutions have yet to review and modify curricula to integrate the Asean message of sensitivity to Asian diversity and solidarity.

Formal education may be tardy in catching up with One Asean. Yet, a walk around the neighborhood on a weekday will yield this casual observation: almost an entire village tuned into Koreanovelas, Japanese animés and online games from the Japanese, Koreans and Chinese. Peopled by stereotypes, fantasies and clichés, pop culture creates our first impressions and perpetuates our lasting impressions of fellow Asians.

Unless education fills in the slack, we will be heirs to this splintered worldview of Pop Asia.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 1, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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