Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 29 May 2019


This is the time of year when thousands of graduates in our country march in commencement exercises.

The graduates represent the product of the educational system. They symbolize the quality of the future yet to be experienced. Will it be bright?

Jose Rizal has said, the youth are the hope of the motherland. In terms of the world, today’s graduates are the global hope for a better future for mankind.

Quality of education. The diploma sums up the learning and capabilities that the graduate has acquired to deal with life’s many challenges.

What is the cost of that education? A more relevant question is, what is the cost of quality education? For the nation, how can we improve the quality of education especially when public resources are used to provide and support it?

Studies invariably show the high correlation of investment in education and economic and social progress. Observe that countries that are economically strong render a high quality of educational service to its residents. If there is any causation to be deduced, it is that the quality of the educational system pushes the economic and social achievements.

Countries that lack the requisite investment in human capital might improve their economic status through migration of labor and foreign capital. The inflow of foreign capital often has imbedded within it the support of highly capable manpower and technological capacity.

The nation should invest in upgrading the quality of its educational system to changing times or it will fall behind. The shifting demands of technological, social, and economic changes make it essential that such upgrading be updated to render it relevant.

Of course, this translates to the proper determination of government spending policies: how much to spend on the improvement of facilities, on the improvement of the quality of instruction, and how much for other national demands that require that the nation’s educational institutions meet the international norms and standards.

These questions are important in the consideration of the debate on educational policy, in the policy of encouraging science and development, and, in general, in promoting the country’s economic development policy.

The global dimension of educational investments. Education across national boundaries has always been an important component of the economic development of nations.

The flow of students to learn from other countries has been a part of modern history. The earliest and outstanding example is Japan. After the humiliation of a forced opening of its ports to foreigners in the 1850s, it decided to send many of its young men to learn from advanced European countries in order to wage its path toward modernity.

The rapid growth of other East Asian countries in our time is also marked by a large flow of learners to the more economically advanced learning centers of the world.

In the course of the global developments of the last few decades, the United States has become even more a mecca of learners from the developing world.

This has happened because of the high standards of its educational institutions, their promotion of educational exchange as a matter of national policy, and also as a consequence of the more open immigration policies that it has pursued compared to many other countries.

Another big factor is the vaunted economic and technological superiority of the US in the world economy.

China has hundreds of thousands of their youth to study in the US. Many countries from East Asia have sent their young to study in the US. Because of their own domestic progress in these countries, many of the graduates have returned home to further support the technological and economic developments of their countries.

The pattern of educational flows has also affected the migration flows into the US. There is an enormous link between immigration and education, and the changing internal demographics of the American population.

Today, there is a preponderant rise of the student body who are associated with Asian ethnic backgrounds. Also, there has been a rise of Latin Americans who have pushed their place in the American university system.

It is also important to note that shifting demographics are precisely also generating troubling signs of concern within the American body politic. Today, there is a rising nationalist and protectionist sentiment that is questioning the wisdom of the rising trend and wishes to redress it.

I have, however, to report an observation arising out a visit to the three academic campuses in America.

On my way to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island (to join a happy occasion – the graduation of a grandson – whose parents are Gi Feliciano and Hans, my son), I made side-trips to the two great campuses of Harvard University and M.I.T. mainly on a sentimental journey. Sixty years ago, I was a graduate student at MIT.

What I observed in the two campuses in Cambridge, Massachusetts is also true in the case of Brown University. There is a large component of students, especially in science and technology, where students from Asia or those with Asian ethnic background are most noticeable.

The tourists were visiting mainly because they have young relations who are studying or graduating from the institutions, or the young tourists might be prospective students.

In fact, this trend had been rising steadily and more so in the last three decades. In my time as student, there were far fewer students from Asia.

If there is any future prediction to be expected out of this observation, it is that the technological world will more and more be heavily influenced by graduates with a strong ethnic Asian background. In fact, we see this quietly in the revolution in manufacturing that has been going on in the East Asian regions, including in Southeast Asia.