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Learning Science Must Become the Philippines' Top Educational Priority

uick! How many Filipino Nobel laureates can you name? That was a trick question because there aren't any—despite the fact that the Philippines is now the 12th most populous country in the world. There are now more Filipinos than there are Germans, Britons, or French citizens. In fact add up the populations of Portugal, Canada, Libya, and Australia and you'll still come up 25 million short compared to the Philippine population. So we have the numbers, why then don't we have the Nobel prize winners?

If we further narrow our focus to just Nobel prizes awarded for science, Switzerland a country with a population of just 8.3 million has 20 of those Nobel laureates. In Asia, Japan leads with 21, Australia has 11, China has 5, New Zealand has 3 and Taiwan has 1. The Philippines with a population more than twelve times that of Switzerland hasn't managed to produce even one.

Here's why. The Roman Catholic church has essentially "hijacked" Philippine education going back to the Spanish colonial period. Serious science education in Philippine Catholic schools is almost nonexistent! Those schools worry that students might begin to question things like "Genesis" or other deeply held beliefs of the Catholic faith. And as we stated in previous editorials, the primary mission of Catholic education is the indoctrination of the youth. The Church after all must insure its continued existence. And what better way to do that than to mold and control the minds of the country's next leaders. Catholic schools and universities are among the most expensive schools in the Philippines and families of wealth and power make sure their children all attend Catholic schools the likes of Ateneo, De La Salle, Assumption, Xavier, Miriam, and St. Scholastica's.

Teaching science for those schools is really just an afterthought. And they offer only the barest minimum needed to "show" that they have an internationally accepted mix of science courses for their students. Add to that the now ingrained remnants from 4 centuries of Spanish colonization where the Catholic Church, working hand-in-hand with colonial authorities actively worked to make sure Filipinos (or Indios as they were then called) remained less learned—and more compliant because of their faith—than their vastly outnumbered Spanish colonial masters.

The prime example of this repressive policy at work can be gleaned from what happened to Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal. He and a handful of Filipino "illustrados" managed to get around the limited educational horizon imposed by local schools by going abroad to study. Rizal then became too smart for his own good as far as the Catholic Church and the Spanish authorities were concerned. So they ended up having him executed.

University of Santo Tomas (UST) brags that it is the oldest university in Asia. Supporters proudly point out that UST is even older than Harvard, America's oldest university. What they don't point out is that UST is, and has always been, a 'lightweight" by global university standards. There is no world-class research conducted there, and it's faculty is largely unknown inside or outside the Philippines. The closest this university comes to offering an above-average science-based degree is its degree in architecture. Much younger universities in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and China have quickly surpassed this "oldest university in Asia." UST instead prides itself in being a "pontifical university" offering degrees in "the sacred faculties, such as Canon Law, Philosophy, and Sacred Theology, in the bachelor’s licentiate, and doctorate levels" as they point out on their website.

The under-education of generations of Filipinos is nothing short of criminal. Unfortunately, the country's ruling class is currently made up of mostly Catholic school graduates. So don't expect things to change anytime soon. Yet sadly, as we move through this second decade of the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly clear that a country's skill in technological innovation will determine whether it moves ahead or gets left behind—relegated to the backwaters of perpetual poverty and the exploitation of its citizens.

What needs to happen

Filipinos are a smart, resourceful and innovative race and they can easily stand toe-to-toe with the smartest people on the planet. But they need the education, the training and the environment that will allow them to reach their full potential. Filipino legislators and government executives—themselves products of Catholic school education (and indoctrination) must reach outside themselves in order to take control of Philippine education from the Catholic Church and put it back in the hands of the government and the people. Love for science must be fostered from an early age. The government must also be ready to fund the entire schooling of young Filipinos interested in a career in science. There must be nothing short of a paradigm shift from the focus on mysticism and superstition so prevalent today, to science-based learning and scientific inquiry.

When Philippine universities are finally conducting world-class basic science research on their campuses; when scientific breakthroughs are occurring on a regular basis within the country; and when Filipino scientists and researchers are being nominated and awarded Nobel prizes; then and only then can we Filipinos honestly say we are hitting our full potential. Short of that, Filipinos can just hope and pray for a miracle that will likely never happen. Published 3/3/2016

If Trump says he loves the "poorly educated" then surely there must be a place in his heart for Pinoys

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