Freeman Cebu Business

Ph: The cellar-dweller

FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel Abalos - The Freeman

The past few days, our country has been associated with poor performances. Well, that’s the way the world saw us to be. For one, just two days ago, our dear country (ranked 134th out of 134 countries surveyed) was dead last in Global Finance’s ranking of the world’s safest countries in this year’s survey.  Simply put, we are the most unsafe of all countries included in the survey which takes into account three fundamental factors. These factors are war and peace, personal security, and natural disaster risk (including the unique risk factors stemming from Covid-19 this year).   

This is not something new to us though.  In this survey’s 2019 iteration (the same factors considered but without the influence of Covid-19), we were likewise dead last out of 128 countries included in the survey. Probably, we should ask Global Finance (GF) to include Syria and Afghanistan in the future surveys to make sure that we won’t become the perennial cellar-dweller.

Secondly, a few days before this survey came out, the World Bank (WB) released its findings that “Filipino students are not meeting the learning standards for their grade level.” Its study revealed that “80% of students do not know what they should know” for their level. 

Such finding highlighted a “crisis in Philippine education that was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.” While it is true that the WB apologized (as demanded by Sec. Briones), it did so for releasing the report ahead of schedule and not necessarily because we are better than what was reported. 

Yes, probably, there were initiatives that may have addressed some deficiencies, still, the fact remains that there is really something wrong with our education system. Lest we forget, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2019 by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), our Grade 4 students scored 297 in math and 249 in science, just enough to land 58th place among 58 countries that participated. Simply put, we were dead last. Another cellar-dwelling performance.

There are at least two key takeaways from these developments. On being the most unsafe among 134 countries surveyed, the repercussions should include foreign investors’ appetite towards us. Will there be an investor who will pour his money into a country that is globally perceived as unsafe? He must be insane if he does. 

Tourism might take a hit too. Unless one is so adventurous, he will never take a risk in visiting a country that is perceived to be unsafe. If he does, he must be coming here for a different kind of tourism. 

On our education sector’s performance, the consequences could also spell trouble. For one, its effects can last for years. Just imagine those who were in grade 4 in 2019, whether they finish school (be it in senior high or college), will they be ready for the industries’ needs by then? If not, then productivity suffers. Therefore, we won’t be surprised if by then, we will become cellar-dwellers again in a global productivity survey.

Moreover, we are known globally as exporter of labor. Prior to the pandemic, we were raking in billions a month in OFWs’ remittances. Known spenders, OFWs’ beneficiaries’ (spending) habits said enough to our economy which is 70% consumption driven. However, if we cannot overhaul our education system, soon enough, we will be producing inferior graduates. Therefore, our labor exports will take a hit.

Remember, other populous countries are emulating us. They try to learn English and are likewise exporting labor. Therefore, if we won’t do anything, our graduates, by then, will be less competitive.  Consequently, those dollar remittances will certainly dwindle. If there are no other major economic activities that will sprout by then, our economy will certainly suffer. 

What’s revolting is, this is happening (the education sector’s poor performance) when, for years, it took in a sizeable amount of the annual national budget. In fact, the last three years, it took the largest slice of the pie. Was the budget spent wisely? We may ask. No one knows, but one thing is certain, part of the budget was used to buy error-filled textbooks. 

These sad developments (GF’s survey, WB’s report and TIMMS 2019) are serious and can’t be solved the way we intend to contain Taal’s eruption by capping its crater. We have to do something. Do nothing and we shall forever be the world’s perennial cellar-dweller.

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