Teaching our kids to be dumb

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MARK GORDON

We Filipinos spend a lot of money on educating our kids.

By some estimates, a typical household spends more than 15 percent of its annual budget on education. By comparison, the rest of the world, on average, spends only about 8 percent.

Why do we spend so much on sending our children to school?

The answer is easy to grasp. We love our children, so we send them to the best schools we can afford in the hope that they will graduate and land in good, well-paying jobs. We see investing in education as a wise strategy. And it is…


But, few of us have given much thought to what, exactly, our schools actually teach our children. We just take it on faith that the companies that we hope will hire our children really want the skills taught in our schools.
As it turns out, the most desirable employers in the Philippines value these skills less and less every year.

To understand why this is so, we have to understand that the world we live in today is not the same world your granddad grew up in. The world, today, is a fast-changing, complex place. It is filled with new, unexpected and constantly changing challenges. It is erupting with events and outcomes that are hard or impossible to understand or predict. It is overflowing with so much information that when we try to understand it we are overwhelmed to the point of paralysis. Today’s world is a chaotic place that is filled with maddening complexity and ambiguity.

In today’s marketplace, rigidly trained professionals have become a liability rather than an asset. After all, today’s knowledge and training will likely be obsolete in a year or two. And then what?

To be successful in today’s unstable and fast-changing environment, companies need employees who have the skills to perform dependably in a complex and fast-changing business environment. Companies now look to hire job candidates who are comfortable with solving problems and thinking flexibly. They are looking for creative thinkers who can foresee and solve problems before, not after, they arise.

Companies as diverse as Honda, Procter & Gamble, and Google, as part of their hiring process, now screen prospective candidates for thinking and creative skills. They ask seemingly ridiculous questions and administer formal tests to determine whether a candidate has the “right stuff” for the dizzying world in which they will have to do business.

Unfortunately, our high schools and universities here in the Philippines don’t seem to be getting the message these employers are sending us. They are providing our children with a suite of professional skills that are woefully obsolete and often counterproductive. As a result, big companies are assigning valuable jobs to graduates in other countries like Singapore, India, Thailand, Malaysia and China, where creativity and innovation are fostered by the educational process, from primary school through high school to the university and beyond.
We are now at a crossroads. If we don’t align our country’s education system to this new reality, we run the risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant to the economy of both the region and the world. The best jobs will increasingly migrate to other countries.

This problem is not going to be fixed, in the usual way, with new textbooks and syllabi. You cannot just print a textbook or issue a centralized set of rules to produce “instant” creativity. Fostering creativity requires an environment rather than a process. It requires the slow and systematic inculcation of “thinking” skills rather than the rote memorization of rules and techniques.

In order to stay economically relevant in the world that is now unfolding around us, we must restructure our schools and classrooms. We must create an environment where students are comfortable embracing new and unfamiliar ideas, where they are able to detach themselves from existing viewpoints and, most importantly, we must create an environment that kindles in each of them an obsessive passion and curiosity to understand the problems and situations they will confront as professionals and citizens.

Perhaps the most difficult part of this challenge will be encouraging our students to make mistakes, and to learn from these mistakes. Companies like Procter & Gamble already recognize that achieving success requires making mistakes and learning from failure. Our students must learn how to make errors that contribute to success.

Ironically, education here in the Philippines seems designed to crush creativity and innovation. As our children are socialized and educated, they are taught to shun new ideas, reject new approaches and fear change and innovation. The aim of education here seems to be the production of a vast army of identically programmed drones and clones.

It frightens me that the educational system here in the Philippines is making our children dumber, not smarter.

Mark Gordon is a senior professional lecturer of Marketing at the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. An anthropologist by training, he recently developed a course in “Creative Problem Solving” for marketing students that is designed to address the issues discussed in this essay. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty and its administrators.

MARK GORDON

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