Investing in education by Atty. Adel Tamano

INVESTING IN EDUCATION - THE GATEWAY TO NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Inaugural speech of ATTY. ADEL A. TAMANO
President
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

Good afternoon. We have a saying in Islam that the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr. I cannot think of anything more emphatic than this to show what a high virtue education is in the Islamic faith. As the very first Filipino Muslim to head a major university in Manila, this is a core value that I bring to the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Education has been such a significant part of my life. I am 37 years old and almost half my life has been spent in the academe. I have taught subjects as varied as Economics, Human Resource Development, and Constitutional Law.

In my career in education, I have made the rounds of the universities from Mindanao to Luzon: from the Mindanao State University to the Ateneo de Manila University and, finally, to my new home here at PLM.

I am no stranger to the pleasure and pain of academic life. The often obscenely low compensation, checking dozen upon dozen of examination booklets, preparing for class lectures, conducting recitation, and the jolt of electricity that we get seeing the spark of recognition in the eyes of our students, which makes all the sacrifices of teaching worthwhile.

In fact, even in my position as the spokesman for the Genuine Opposition during the elections and until now, I have always perceived my role as an educator and not as a politician – as someone with the duty to enlighten the public by presenting the issues as fairly, honestly, and clearly as possible, adhering to the belief that an educated public is the greatest safeguard to democracy.
As one of the youngest university presidents in the Philippines, I hope to instill a sense of dynamism and purpose to PLM because I believe that education is not only a fundamental value but is also the gateway to our national development.

Today, I hope that you will see beyond this young man, looking absolutely ridiculous in his gown, trying pathetically to look wise and deserving of this great honor that the City of Manila, through the Honorable Mayor Alfredo Lim and the Board of Regents, is bestowing upon him. Instead, I hope you will see someone who embodies this institution, the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, an institution whose primary purpose is to transform and uplift the lives of the economically disadvantaged but bright and deserving students of Manila through the power of education.

I can now be the voice of the ten thousand students and educators who not only appeal to you, our national and local leaders, for support and guidance but who also want you to know their aspirations for their University, their city, and their country.

The PLM is a singular institution. It has been called a local university with a national character and reputation. What is more, it is a university with a unique history and legacy. PLM is situated within the historic walls of Intramuros in the great City of Manila. The country’s very first college was established right here at the grounds of PLM, the Colegio de Manila, which was founded in 1590 by the Jesuits. It may be said that the very roots of the modern educational system in the Philippines may be found here at PLM.

On a more dramatic note, PLM stands upon hallowed grounds: The 3 hectares where our university is situated was the military headquarters of the United States’ 31st infantry. During the Japanese Occupation, brave Filipino and American soldiers were slain here. Our own national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was placed on trial for sedition within the grounds of the University.

As a matter of fact, Philippine history has a sense irony because the walls of Intramuros were precisely made to keep someone like me, a Moro, as well the other marginalized and oppressed people of that time outside, while the those in power – the Spaniards and their minions - enjoyed the safety, the power, and the luxury of the walled city. Intramuros was, at that time, a symbol of oppression, discrimination, and persecution.

However, today, with PLM giving opportunity to the poor and marginalized to have quality education that will enable them to break the cycle of poverty, the walls of Intramuros are a beacon of hope for our countrymen. The lesson of Intramuros and PLM is that things can change for the better. And here at PLM we are at the forefront of making that change.

Among others, we are giving our students the tools they need to compete in the 21st century. When I assumed the Presidency last August, the university’s offices did not even have Internet access, much less computers. Within four months we have equipped our University with computer and Wi-fi facilities. We now have over 30 computer stations with free Internet access for students and faculty as well as laser-printing facilities. It is a modest achievement and we hope that within two years, we will have at least 200 computer stations with free Internet access to equip our students with the technological skills that have become a prerequisite to obtaining good jobs in the modern workplace.

Earlier, I referred to Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero, deliberately because I believe that heroism and education in the Philippine context are intertwined. Some will scoff at the idea of an interrelation between education and heroism, but given the magnitude of the challenges that we face in the Philippines in education and the amount of work that is needed for us to address these problems, then the idea of the heroic nature of our endeavor does not seem so laughable. Moreover, the virtues of our national heroes of patriotism, industry, and courage are the very qualities that we must to instill in our students if our country is to prosper.

In fact, today, more than ever, we need new heroes. Our heroes of the past fought against the heavy yoke of colonialism and tyranny. Today, our challenges loom just as large as our nation is slowly being crushed by poverty, by corruption, and by bad governance. The present challenges us to be live with heroism, patriotism, and to have a real vision for the future of our nation.

Of course, poverty remains our primary problem. According to the latest SWS Survey, 11.9 per cent of our countrymen suffer daily the scourge of hunger. The Human Development Report states that 36.8 per cent of our population, more than 1 in every 3 Filipinos, live below the poverty line.

So what is the answer to the problem of poverty? I believe that given the highly competitive global economy and the fact that our population continues to grow at about 1.5 million new Filipinos year, a large part of the answer to poverty is providing skills and training to our youth that will enable them to find decent jobs, or could help them set up their own businesses.
Education must be a primary component to any poverty reduction plan. The adage is corny and over-used, but it is nevertheless true - Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you feed him for a life time.

So where are we now in the realm of education?

In a recent test of English proficiency of our primary school teachers, 70% failed. In the secondary level, 80% failed. This is alarming. How do we maintain our competitive advantage, which is our facility with English, against the other growing economies in the region when our very own teachers cannot even speak or write English properly?

In the realm of Math and Science, in an examination taken by high-school students from 45 countries, ranking from the highest to the lowest, our country ranked 41st in Math and 42nd in Science.

These dismal statistics only considers those who actually have access to education, even a poor one. In the Philippines, of ten school age students, only six will graduate from the primary level. Of the six, only four will graduate from high school. Out of these four, only two will complete their college education.

If the Philippines were to develop and remain globally competitive, then we must focus on education. The value of education as the engine for national development is enshrined in our very own Constitution, which states emphatically that “(t)he State shall give priority to education, science and technology, arts, culture, and sports to foster patriotism and nationalism, accelerate social progress, and promote total human development. ”

This vital provision of our constitution perceives education as the gateway not only to personal intellectual and moral development but also, ultimately, to our nation’s economic and social development.

Art. XIV, Sec. 5 of the Constitution is even more categorical when it declares that “(t)he State shall assign the highest budgetary priority to education…” Have we fulfilled the spirit of this constitutional mandate? If you believe the answer to this is in the affirmative, then why do we have a shortfall of 45,000 classrooms?

A former Undersecretary of Education puts this issue of budgetary prioritization in a clearer perspective when he wrote that “(w)e talk about education getting the largest share of our national budget. In truth, the real measure is how much we spend annually per child -- which is around $150 . . . Thailand spends more than six times as much at $950; Malaysia (spends) 110 times more.”

Perhaps our Asian neighbors – who have sprinted ahead of us economically – realize much better than us the value of education in national development. We are fortunate here at the PLM that Mayor Lim and the City Council spends roughly four times the national amount per student, and that is why the PLM graduates have done so well both in industry and in their performance in competitive examinations.

Modesty aside, PLM is ranked by the Professional Regulatory Commission, in terms of passing the board exams, as third in Nursing, second in Accountancy, and second in Architecture. In Law, we are ranked number eight. The lesson here is simple: with adequate government support, our students can excel.

In fact, globally, spending for education is growing – the average is 6% of a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In the Philippines, spending for education is only 2.7% of GDP.

If we are to invest in our nation's future, let us choose to give priority to investing in education. Now is the time to get our leaders on board to the constitutional mandate of giving budgetary priority to education.

When others talk about the great riches of this country, they point to our natural resources: our beaches, our tourist attractions, our mineral resources, and our marine resources. I disagree. I believe that in the Philippines, our greatest resource is the human one.

Our people are naturally intelligent, creative, inherently cheerful, and resilient. I see these qualities daily in the staff and students of PLM. This is the resource that we must cultivate, and we must shift our focus from investing in capital resources into prioritizing investment in our human capital. Our great people are our country's real strength and the reason why our country moves forward despite the current lack of good leadership.

Before I end my speech, allow me to thank all the people who have helped me achieve whatever modicum of success I have reached in my short life. You all know who you are and there are just too many to mention. However, there is one man who could not be here today, a man who taught me the values that I try to live by – patriotism, discipline, integrity, and service for others. He also taught me something else - a passion for reading and studying. It takes a person who deeply believes in the importance of education to encourage a ten-year-old to read Shakespeare and Plato.

Certainly, not every father subjects his child to book reports and oral examinations. Well, my father did and I think that was a large part of why I am here today.

A few days before my father passed away almost 15 years ago, he told me – as if knowing that we would not meet again – that he would not be able to leave me riches, but he would leave me a good name. I am proud to carry his surname, Tamano. Actually, he was mistaken. He also left me another great legacy, education. Indeed, it is the best legacy we can leave to our children and the best investment that we can make for our nation’s future.

So let me end by sharing with you my simple vision for PLM: I envision this university as a haven where my students are provided quality education with decent facilities and modern technology; where the faculty and staff receive a fair wage as well as medical, health, and transportation benefits; where the resources of the university are used solely for the good of the students; and where the administration is transparent and accountable. My visions are not grand ones but if we are able to achieve this, then we will have set the conditions needed for our students to perform at their very best. In my own small way, I want to know that I am contributing my part for the development of the youth of the Philippines.

Previously, I referred to Dr. Jose Rizal for good reason. Dr. Jose Rizal became the voice of his generation and fought tyranny and oppression through the power of education. Having been educated in the best schools in the country at that time, Dr. Rizal was able to articulate forcefully and eloquently the ideas that nourished the Philippine Revolution. Now is the time for us to create a new generation of Dr. Jose Rizals who, like him, shall have the ideas that will transform this nation.

Truly, the future of this nation lies in the country’s youth. Let us invest in their future.

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