The Value of Education

I have been mulling about this issue for a while now, often asking myself the question – is it fair for someone to be written off and deprived of the capacity to earn a decent living and live a dignified life because he or she doesn’t have a college or university degree?

What does university education really buy you? Is education the ultimate passport to prosperity? Does the absence of a university degree diminish one’s appeal both intellectually and socially? In the Pinoy culture, it matters not if one is born rich, middle class of poor; the absence of a degree robs the individual of that ingredient necessary to complete his/her metamorphosis into a respectable and dignified person. Society is terribly judgmental on a person without a university degree. It is either you are looked down as poor, unable to pay for university or intellectually dull, unable to progress further into higher learning. The university degree holder is considered the quintessential professional, the epitome of good manners and right conduct , someone who brings honor and prestige to his family and community. When someone an commits an impropriety, we often hear the all too familiar comment , ” he is an educated person – how can he possibly do that?”, as if an educated person is infallible and moral injudiciousness is a monopoly of the uneducated. We all know by now that this archaic presumption is fallacious and hypocritical, for the sub-culture of graft corruption in government that had gone unabated for decades up until now were the brainchild of the most educated people of the nation.

What is the real value of education ? Is it the financial rewards of academic excellence ? We all fascinated by the notion that superior academic skills bring about instant success in the field of employment so we start with our children early. We applaud our rigorous early education, how our children excel in academics at their young ages but which is more profitable in the long haul, a child who is confident, articulate and spontaneous in expressing himself but slightly lagging in academic skills, or one who knows long division and multiplication, flawless in his grammar conjugation yet unable to speak his mind and communicate his thoughts effectively? Isn’t education supposed to be progressive and in line with the person’s pace of emotional and physical maturity?

Albert Einstein, in his short article ” Why Socialism” had this interesting commentary ……” the experience which has accumulated since the beginning of the so-called civilized period of human history has–as is well known– been largely influenced and limited by causes which are by no means exclusively economic in nature. For example, most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior”.

The legacy of the Spanish class system remains intact and education seems to be the only bridge that allows the have nots to cross into the realm of the haves. Over the years the elitism had gone progressively worse because the elite kept on raising the bar to fend off the bridge crossers, establishing their own posh housing enclaves, upscale schools and trendy supermarkets for the enjoyment and consumption with their own kind. Elitism in education in RP is at its pathetic peak as we speak. Fueled by competition and patronage from graduates from the elite schools who head many of the country’s big corporations, a handful of elite schools had declared themselves the benchmark of educational excellence and set themselves apart from the rest. Except for a couple of publicly funded schools in the list, the most important requirement other than an average brain is money, therefore shutting off the have nots effectively. It is now common practice for hiring companies to narrow down their candidate list to graduates from these elite schools, leaving the rest as lowly bottom feeders to fight for the unglamorous and low paying positions.

Does every job require a university degree in the first place? Should a carpenter or a truck driver make significantly less salary than accounting clerk because he did not slug it out at the university? I remember when I was touring Hongkong a few years ago our tour bus guide when speaking briefly about his country’s economy said that high school graduates are lured by the high paying jobs at the plants and factories that they opt to go to shorter programs at trade schools rather than spending 4 years at a university. In Canada, a little more than 10% of its population finish university . The rest take up diploma ( non-degree) courses or vocational courses. Those who finish high school can become tradesmen – masons, carpenters, truck drivers and earn a decent living to raise and support their families . Life isn’t a write off because you’re only a high school graduate.

The root cause of our economic dilemma has to do with the failure of our society to respect the dignity of labor at the inception of our nation. We may not know or even deny it, the Spanish class system is still very much intact in our thinking. Our laws and practices show it. As long as we continue to trivialize the importance of the labor class and continue the hypocrisy of placing premium on higher education not for its utility but as precondition for societal acceptance and the ultimate means to get ahead economically, we may not be able to avert our journey to self destruction.

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17 Responses

  1. I personally believe that education ought to be a lifelong endeavor (even if it’s just reading one novel a month for older folks). And such pursuit need not be constrained by any particular program, course of study, or a piece of paper to be framed and hung on the wall to collect dust; unless, of course, it’s a specialized field such as medicine or engineering or law.

    I also believe that in the end, it isn’t so much the question of what degree you have earned, but rather, what have you done with what you’ve learned?

  2. Agree Senor and it becomes bad when education is being used to discriminate people. I may sound totally crazy but perhaps in Pinas there needs to be an adjustment or a de-emphasis in education to promote equal opportunity in employment. There’s so many jobs out there that don’t require a college degree but companies perfer to hire degree holders.

  3. Sometimes people have this warped mindset that paper qualification is everything. Definitely, our set-up is different from other countries. For some, technical or vocational courses could land them good jobs. They’re more interested in honing their skills than their brains (not that their brains dont work). 🙂

    But when it comes to the workplace, we need a lot of skills and common sense. It’s funny how we regard people from the best schools in our country. I think we have this backward mindset. Come to think of it, here in my workplace, I have some Filipino colleagues with PhDs, MBAs and what-have-yous earned from prestigious universities/schlolarship grants both local and abroad and they end up almost equal to other Filipinos and other races with only a basic degree! Most people here are products of foreign schools from first world countries and I just couldn’t think why they’re here (no economic migration, near to home blah blah pls). What happened to their paper qualification that they couldn’t be competitive to land good jobs where they’ve earned their degrees?

    That’s what we say, ilabas mo ang Pilipino sa bansa, pati pride nyan mawawala (hopefully)…lol. How true, I’ve seen a lot.

    Learning is a continuous process, not measured by any paper testament nor what’s locked in one’s brain.

  4. I do agree with you. Paper qualification doesn’t really work to one’s advantage at all times. Where I am, employers are very wary of hiring people who have more education than necessary because they might not find the job intellectually stimulating and may eventually leave because of the lack of challenge. Many times people are shocked to find themselves “overqualified” for the job. There are other issues such as core competencies, emotional intelligence and experience that factor into the equation. The culture of elitism will blank these things out in favor of educational attainment from a preferred school.

    Matthew Barrett, the former CEO of Bank of Montreal was only a high school graduate from Ireland when he came to Canada. He took a job with the bank when he was in his late teens and eventually became the CEO ! He took the bank to their first profit of $1 billion. Save for a 13 week Harvard management course, Barrett had no university degree to brag about. But why was he allowed to sail on despite his lack of educational credentials?

  5. Well, for a start a good education opens door.
    But I agree that there are many stupid people that are full of titles and degrees…

  6. What would be more shocking is the ease of acquiring these titles and degrees nowadays!

  7. It’s really different the way people in te west see things. That’s was lucky of him to find a system and people that enabled him to progress further. I think he’s good at what he’s doing to deserve being CEO.

  8. Barrett’s personality had a lot to do with his success. He had the personality of royalty – tall, handsome, elegant and very articulate. He married the best looking women and lived a lifestyle that defined his stature in life. He certainly lacked the credentials big time but he was very smart and had excellent communication skills. He epitomizes the saying – your brains will give you what you need to know but it is your mouth that will take you where you want to go.

    Barrett admitted that Canada is all about meritocracy, about achieving and proving what you say. He admits that it would have been difficult to pull off his achievement in the U.K. where people stick too much to tradition and bureaucracy.

    Barrett left Bank of Montreal to be CEO of Barclays Bank in England, back to his roots, his birthplace.

  9. There is still no substitute to hard work and common sense in the business world. One only need to look at Bill Gates. He’s a college dropout and yet, he’s now on top of the food chain in the corporate world.

    Funny thing is, there are a lot of businesses here that have been started or founded by people without any college education and is now being managed by people with MBA’s.

  10. And who would think that the college drop put would become the richest man in the world. If Bill Gates was to be asked what made him what he is today, with his incredible $40 billion fortune what would he say? Was it his undergraduate education in computer science in Harvard or his savvy and astute business skill and experience acquired over the years at the helm of Microsoft?

  11. Learning is a life-long process. It is not bound by age.

    Discrimination in the Philippine job market is really something. You always see employers running job ads that look only for graduates from “UP, Ateneo, and La Salle,” and who are not over 35 years old. This is something that one will not see in the US, for example.

    In Switzerland, there is this thing called “commercial diplome” (commercial diploma). People can participate in a three-year apprenticeship program in a field of his choice (e.g. banking).

    And yes, there is dignity of labor in Switzerland, unlike in the Philippines. Garbage people, for instance, are paid very well.

  12. How true Jayred. It’s sad when you’re being considered for not what you know but what school you came from – let alone being granted an audience for an application! This is discrimination to the max. Same here, there’s dignity of labor. Nothing to be ashamed when you’re a mason or a construction worker.

  13. Totally agree with your post. Degrees and college education can mean an opportunity to expand one’s horizons and learn for the sake of learning before entering the work force. And perhaps learning a method of how to see the world and continue learning the rest of your life. Beyond that, it’s really not of much use. (Just like high school wasn’t of much use ;] )Having a college degree definitely does not make a ‘smarter’ person than someone without.

    The usefulness (or lack thereof) of said degrees is striking in countries that have a relatively large number of college graduates. There, a college degree means little, as there are too many new graduates for the available job market. For example, in Taiwan, you’ll find young college graduates vying for the available bank teller jobs.

    http://www.asia.hobsons.com/regional_outlook/careers_in_taiwan

  14. Right on. They say that on the average, school only provides us 10% of the knowledge that we use in our daily occupation. The rest of what we know are acquired knowledge, either through our own curiosity or through work experience.

    Thanks for dorpping by.

  15. i would like to point out that a high school graduate in the philippines knows way less than a high school graduate in the states.

    scholarships are offered at schools (such as philippine science high) for highly capable students.

    it’s fair enough to say that at least there is a way to go up the social ladder other than being born into it — education is the answer.

    however, there is such a large disparity between the wages of a blue collar worker (tradesmen) and a white collar worker — and this is indeed very unfair. the minimum wage in the philippines should be higher and enforced. the rich are getter richer because they are pocketing the extra profits from cheap labor.

  16. Agree with your observation re high school graduate quiality. The point I am wondering sometimes is – does education help the person’s personality? When you look at these Hollywood stars who barely finish high school, you won’t have an inkling that they are handicapped on education.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  17. […] Posted on July 11, 2009 by bw My last post about education was almost three years ago.  As my wife and I are mulling about moving my daughter […]

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