We train our students to think, to question,to analyze

- Millet M. Mananquil () - August 3, 2003 - 12:00am
Joel Santos is not your usual portrait of an educator. Far from the erudite-looking professor with thick eyeglasses and permanent book in hand, he is the boyish-looking, thirtysomething guy with cheeks that are perpetually blushing pink, a cool and hip guy you could easily mistake for a student on campus. Especially when he bonds with the students. He laughs with them, eats with them, plays badminton with them. They are so comfortable with his presence and his vibes, yet they know just when they should stop kidding Sir Joel.

This BS Legal Management graduate of Ateneo de Manila University sharpened his business skills as a wiz behind Procter & Gamble’s Safeguard and Rejoice brands and as financier for small and medium-scale industries. Business was good, but he decided it could be better if there was some nobility of purpose behind it, one that could help train more productive citizens and better businessmen in the country.

So in 1999, Joel teamed up with maverick business scion Vivienne Tan, daughter of tycoon Lucio Tan, and a double degree holder (Computer Science and Math) from the University of San Francisco, to establish the Thames International Business School in the Philippines.

Armed with their steely determination and their vision of a school that would teach students "not merely to survive but to thrive in modern business, and give them a considerable edge in the workplace," they set up Thames, pooling together brilliant business practitioners and progressive-thinking lecturers for their teaching force.

What’s the vision behind Thames? We interviewed Joel Santos at the Thistle Kensington Hotel in London, en route to the University of Portsmouth to witness the graduation of 16 Thames Philippines students.

What makes Thames International Business School different from other schools in the Philippines?

It’s the pioneer international college in the country. It has a British-based curriculum. For a four-year bachelor degree, students do the first two years in Thames Philippines and spend the final one or two years in any of our affiliate universities abroad. These universities are in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

But there are some other schools claiming to be "international" in Manila.

The word "international" is used in many different ways. When you say "international" the student should actually experience living and studying outside the Philippines, so that he or she can have that global exposure to different cultures, interacting with different people around the world. Being international should not just be in name.

Does being international also mean you have both local and foreign teachers in your school here?

We have some foreign teachers, but majority of our teachers have either worked or studied abroad. They’re coming back from a global perspective so that when they share concepts with the students, they look at these not only from a Philippine perspective but also a global viewpoint.

How do you compare the Thames style of teaching with the local style of teaching?

Students who go from Thames and transfer to a British university for instance, say that what they studied and how they were taught in Thames Philippines is the same as how they’re now being taught in the UK. The standard is the same.

Now to differentiate that with Philippine universities, a UK-based education is focused more on analytical thinking, as compared to memorization. In our school, we train our students how to think. They don’t just memorize and read things and take these as they are, they are trained to think, to question, to synthesize and to move forward

Does it work?

I think it does. Just look at Asia. Who are the ones under the British system of education? Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong. Look at how progressive they are.

Well, compared to the Americanized and Hispanized countries, yes...

I think maybe certain types of education do not fit the Asian culture. Since the Asian culture is very accepting, tanggap lang ng tanggap, putting the British style of education which is more questioning, is good.

Asians seemingly became "accepting" only because our colonizers wanted us to be obedient and subservient, we were trained to be docile. Any form of questioning was tantamount to rebellion. Our minds were enslaved.

What happened is that we kept accepting whatever was told to us. We didn’t question what was told us, we didn’t ask what was right for us. So that’s what we aim to do. Train our students to think and have a different mindset from those who graduate from local schools.

How will Thames students make a difference after they graduate?

We envision that as these Thames students graduate abroad and come back to the Philippines, they have a different way of thinking and hopefully they will affect positively other Filipinos. They will come back with knowledge different from what has been taught here for the past 20 or 30 years. They will have new ideas.

The Philippine educational system has been criticized as too Hispanized and Americanized. In many schools controlled or founded by the Spanish clergy, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo were banned. Many books written by pro-American authors portray Americans as our saviors rather than as colonizers. Now as you bring in UK education, wouldn’t that now produce another form of colonial mentality, this time in favor of the British culture?

I think what’s nice about our system is that the first two years in the Philippines do use the British curriculum but contextualized in the Philippine setting to fit the Filipino mindset. We just cannot give a British curriculum to a Filipino. We have several subjects that bridge the gap between a Filipino perspective and an international perspective.

How do you encourage your students to think rather than memorize?

Our exams are all in essay form, oral and written. We don’t have multiple choice and fill-in-the-blanks tests.

So, that also develops their writing skills and helps make them more articulate.

Yes, and it’s sad but some students perceive it as difficult, and they shy away, and transfer to traditional local schools.

We heard that testpapers are checked in Singapore?

Yes, the British professors go to Singapore to check papers.

So the input of local teachers regarding the students’ performance has no value? No chance to make sipsip to the Filipino teachers?

But the Filipino lecturers are important because they give the local examples regarding the UK curriculum. For instance, International Marketing has to be taught from a Filipino company’s perspective also. The Filipino lecturers make the foreign curriculum relevant.

So even if it’s a British business school, will the Filipino student be prepared to work within the realities of the Filipino business milieu?

We want the students to come back to the Philippines. The school was put up so that the next generation of Filipinos is able to learn something from the outside which they can bring back to benefit their own country.

Was that the vision behind Thames?

Yes, Thames was founded by Vivienne Tan and myself. It was difficult at first because we were new and being young, we were questioned. But after two years of operation, we have proven that our way of education is the wave of the future. Because now, everybody’s following suit. The traditional universities are trying to follow our model. They’re now establishing linkages abroad. In the end, that’s good for everyone.

You are also a teacher at Thames, and you studied at Ateneo de Manila University from grade school to college. How do you compare today’s generation of students with those during your time?

This generation is a very open generation. They’re so exposed, they’re open to new ideas. They cannot just be taught the way other generations were taught before. They’re the Internet generation, they’re the text generation, they’re the moving lights-and-sound generation, full of life. As a lecturer, you have to be able to enter their minds, and their world in order to affect them positively. You have to speak in their language. In the end, it’s more difficult to teach young people now. So the teachers at Thames, aside from being professional practitioners, have to be young at heart. It’s not about age, it’s about outlook. Our lecturers enjoy teaching, and our students enjoy listening. We also get to do same things together – we play badminton with the students, go out of town with them for tours.

Are these tours part of the school’s extra-curricular activities?

We schedule educational tours as part of our program. During breaks, we bring the students to Singapore, Bangkok, Australia or the UK. So in Singapore, for instance, we ask: What makes Singapore successful? Why did they overtake the Philippines in the ’70s? In Australia, they take a look at the agricultural industry. How come the Philippines which is agri-based can’t be as modern as Australia and have such a very strong export? In the UK, they study the UK form of government and ask: Is the parliamentary form better than our form of government? How come in Asia, everybody’s parliamentary except us? And it seems to be doing well for them. Now they can join debates on parliamentary vs. democratic forms of government.

Does Thames help its graduates get jobs after college?

Yes, and we don’t want them to end up in just any company with bad culture. We want them to join companies with good culture, where good work habits will be formed. These are the companies that also appreciate the graduates’ international exposure.

Do you offer scholarships?

Yes, we do. And you don’t have to be the smartest to win scholarships. We look at character. As proven, it is not always the smartest people who excel, it’s those who have a holistic character and have the potential. It doesn’t always follow that when you’re the valedictorian or salutatorian, you’re the best.

How much does a Thames education cost?

The tuition at Thames is similar to that of Ateneo and La Salle. The cost abroad would be the same as a UK university, except that they’re one half the US university rates.

Why is education in the UK cheaper?

Because the UK universities are state-owned, they’re subsidized by the government.

Can Filipino students choose to remain in the Philippines all throughout their four-year course?

Yes, we have an entrepreneurship course for those who choose to stay in the country. But we still encourage them to take our educational tours. Too bad the average Filipino traveler only goes to the hotel, to the malls, to the amusement parks, and back to the hotel. They don’t go to places where they can learn so much.

This year you have 16 college graduates in the UK, out of which one graduated with first honors, 14 with second honors and one with third honors?

You should see their transition. They were average students in high school, and became cum laude or magna cum laude in college. So this means that with the right type of education and motivation, you can actually have exponential improvement.

Abroad, the best of the Filipino students comes out. Here they’re so pampered and sheltered. So when they’re away from their comfort zone, they are driven to excel. And did you notice that when Filipinos are abroad, they follow rules? When they go back home, they get hawa again, they get pulled down by our current system to the point of mediocrity.

If you could give unsolicited advice regarding our system of education, what would it be?

I’ll add more years to high school and grade school. The Filipinos are the youngest high school graduates in the whole of Asia, cause we cut down two years in our education. So they enter college at 16, while graduates from other parts of the world are 18 or 19. So at Thames what we did was add new subjects to bridge that gap.

What subjects would you abolish or revise in our educational system?

I think the problem lies not in the subjects per se, but the delivery and the quality standard. There have to be quality assurance committees just like abroad. Schools that don’t meet the standard are closed down. Otherwise, you are bringing a Filipino and letting him enter society unprepared. You can’t let him go back in time and try to relearn again. Two bad because they say it’s education that’s pulling us down.

But a lot of foreign students were coming to the Philippines to study college in the ’60s and ’70s?

From being the knowledge capital of Asia in the ’60s and ’70s, we’re now known as the diploma mill of Asia. Now Singapore is known as the knowledge capital of Asia. Because they have a good economy. Magka-dikit siya talaga. The holistic approach is through education. And it should be good education for everybody.
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Thames International Business School is located at 12 Orchard Road, Eastwood City, Libis, Quezon City. For inquiries, call 687-4736 to 37, 687-5808 or fax 687-6481.

Thames students in Business Administration (Major in Marketing or Business and Information Technology) and Mass Communication go through a dynamic British Educational System curriculum validated by UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate). They move on to internationally renowned universities in the UK (Oxford Brookes University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Wales-Bangor, University of Portsmouth, Middlesex University, University of North London, University of Central England, Thames Valley University and Coventry University), or Canada (University of Winnipeg) or Australia (Curtin University, Queensland University of Technology, University of Southern Queensland and Central Queensland University).
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