Tsikahan with Tito Jo: COVID-19 and Its Impacts on Youth Education

Transcription of the August 26 episode of Tsikahan with Tito Jo

1. Tito Jo, in most countries; September marks the commencement of the new academic year – Philippine academic calendar is a little different, though. Before we start with this week’s topic of Tsikahan, can you tell us about your life as a student and university professor in the Philippines? I’m sure the young generation is eager to know how university life was like for you?

JMS: I entered the University of the Philippines as freshman in 1956. I rushed through the 4-year AB Course and finished it in 3 years’ time because I had planned to take law. I had fun with schoolmates, including fellow campus writers and activists, even if I took overloads of 24 or 27 units per semester and went to summer school twice.

But when I finished my AB course in 1959, I needed a job immediately because I had gotten married to Julie. Thus, I accepted from the UP English Department the scholarship grant to take the masteral course in Comparative Literature, combined with teaching fellowship and the duty to teach English.

I did not yet have the rank of a professor when I taught English in the UP from 1959 to 1961. I was still at the bottom of the faculty. I became a professorial lecturer at the Lyceum of the Philippines in political science from 1964 to 1968. When I stepped out of political detention in 1986, I became an associate professor at the UP Asian Center of Graduate Studies in 1986.

2. It might not be an exaggeration to say that Philippine education might be one of the most expensive. One semester might cause you a minimum of PHP 30,000 sans the books, school supplies, projects, uniform and daily allowance. How come? Why is the Philippine education very expensive in our country?

JMS: Philippine education, especially at the university level, is expensive, because the reactionary government has reduced funding for the state colleges and universities and the school administrations are compelled to raise tuition fees to pay the teachers and maintain operations. The Duterte regime channels most of the public funds to bureaucratic corruption and to overspending for the military and police.

The private colleges and universities benefit from the state policy of promoting commercialized education or education for profit by school owners. They take advantage of the inadequacy and expensiveness of the state colleges and universities. And they have wide latitude in charging high tuition fees and other kinds of school fees.

The state policy of under-funding state colleges and universities and letting the private schools have their way in making profits is due to the fact that the foreign and domestic employers in the Philippines have limited needs for professionals and technical experts for an underdeveloped, pre-industrial and agrarian economy. Thus, many of our people who finish the high school and college levels of education go jobless and are compelled to seek jobs abroad.

3. Has the education system in the Philippines always been like this? Has it always been designed on the framework of neoliberalism? What was the education system like during the pre-colonial times?

JMS: You are correct in mentioning the framework of neoliberalism. This has aggravated the decline and deterioration of the Philippine educational system and the rising costs of getting an education. Neoliberalism promotes profit-making by the capitalists in education and serving the limited needs of the foreign monopolies and the local exploiters for highly educated Filipinos. The neoliberal emphasis is on educating the students for local exploitation and for export of cheap labor.

Since the adoption of the neoliberal economic policy four decades ago, the Philippine educational system has deteriorated. But of course, even in previous times, there were already limitations and encumbrances on the Philippine educational system because of the semicolonial and semifeudal character of Philippine society. The university level of education is mainly a privilege of the children of the exploiting classes and the upper middle class.

In Spanish colonial times, when feudal conditions prevailed, catechism was the main form of education for the entire people. Only the children of the landlord class, merchants,professionals and bureaucrats could go to Ateneo, Letran and the University of Sto.Tomas. It would only be under the US colonial regime that the public educational system was established and private schools established to serve the expanded needs of a semifeudal economy under modern imperialism.

But let us not idealize and romanticize education in pre-colonial times. We had a high literacy level of supposedly 80 per cent, much higher than that of Spain at the time. But we did not yet have a full system of primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education. The children of the datus and the wealthy families had also the privilege of being more and better tutored than others in the sultanates and other types of pre-colonial societies that existed in the archipelago.

4. Many migrant workers leave their home country to send their children to school hoping to end the cycle of migration – but failing. There seem to be no end to the cycle of migration for poor countries. How bad is the global economy for these students and families to decide to still leave their countries and try their luck elsewhere?

JMS: It is a major global phenomenon that migrant workers come in big numbers from the underdeveloped countries to industrial capitalist countries and other developed economies. This has been undertaken by the imperialist powers to make up for the loss of colonies by bringing cheap labor to the metropolis from the underdeveloped hinterlands.

Under the neoliberal economic policy, the phenomenon of labor migration has grown because of the poverty in the source countries and also because of m wars of aggression by the imperialist powers and because of the degradation of the environment by the multinational firms.

As the global capitalist economy deteriorates, there will be more impoverished people wishing to get jobs abroad even as the economic crisis worsens in the capitalist countries and generates anti-immigrant sentiments and movements among the reactionaries.

By the way, do you wish to know the number of Filipino migrant workers before COVID-19? They are 12 million and they are 25 per cent of the 48 million labor force of the Philippine. Another 10.6 million or more than 22 per cent of the labor stay behind in the Philippines as unemployed. This a huge reserve of cheap labor for Philippine and foreign employers. The number of unemployed has risen so drastically as a result of Covid-19.

5. Now, there is a growing number scholars coming from third-world countries. Why do Western countries promote their schools and import academics from third world countries? How does this effect the origin countries of scholars?

JMS: Indeed, there has been a brain drain, a migration of scholars and professionals from the third world to the Western countries. They are excellent and are cheap to hire. And they desire to be employed because of less opportunities for higher income and professional advancement. The imperialist power also have a special interest in using them to influence ideological and political currents in the Philippines, especially in the social sciences.

There is a vicious cycle in the diaspora of scholars and professionals. The dire conditions in their home countries push them to go and stay abroad. As they leave the country, the people are deprived of their services. But I do not blame these migrant scholars and professions. It is the duty of the revolutionary forces and people in the Philippines to make revolutionary change. And these migrant scholars and professionals will come home to help build a better and brighter Philippines.

6. Tito, the COVID-19 pandemic has become a political and economic crisis, many have not returned to their jobs yet and many might not be able to return. Like any other global crisis, it is the poor who are usually suffering. How is it going to effect the millions of youth and students?

JMS: Yes by itself the COVID-19 pandemic has generated political and economic crisis. It has aggravated the earlier and continuing worsening political and economic crisis of the world capitalist system. Crisis conditions are becoming worse in both the capitalist and underdeveloped countries. The poor toiling masses of workers and peasants suffer most. And the youth and students are suffering worse conditions than ever before.

The states provide the monopoly capitalist class with loan bailouts and stimulus packages and allow them to end employment contracts and obligations to the workers. The unemployed remain unemployed and can get no sufficient unemployment relief. If the host people suffer, the more are migrant Filipino workers are in a dire situation. Many of them have lost their jobs and need to return home. They can no longer remit money to their children to allow them to go to school.

7. The world leaders are trying to restore the normality of life, from tourism to business and education. As an educator yourself, can we hear your opinion about this “new normal”?

JMS: The biggest companies have taken advantage of the COVID-19 to retrench their work force because the economy has in fact receded. And many of the medium and small enterprises which employ a lot of people have been devastated. Even when the COVID-19 pandemic recedes as a problem, the crisis of overproduction of the entire world capitalist system will become worse.

The economies will continue to sink because it cannot employ so many unemployed and thus the market for the products of industry will continue to shrink. The “new normal” will be even more abnormal than relatively better times in the past. The crisis will continue to worsen. Contradictions among imperialist powers, between imperialist powers and oppressed peoples and nations and between capital and labor will intensify.

The imperialist and local reactionaries will unleash state terrorism and ultra-reactionary movements of xenophobes, racists, misogynists and fascists. The US will continue its endless wars and will try to win its growing contradicitons with China. At the same time, the proletariat and peoples of the world will continue to intensify the anti-imperialist and democratic struggles that became conspicuous last year. The crisis conditions make people suffer but also drive them to fight back.

8. Many of the students even in Western countries are taking part-time jobs so to sustain their education. There are also the parents of migrant children and whose jobs are most probably in the front-lines. Cleaners, health workers, shop-keepers, etc., If the labour market is worsening, why still insist on the resumption of the academic year?

JMS: Indeed, a great number of students will not be able to go to school because they lose their part-time jobs or parents can no longer finance their studies. But it is important to make demands even on imperialist and reactionary states to enable all the students to continue with their studies. If these states do not comply with the just and reasonable demands, then they are exposed for what they are and become easier targets for revolutionary resistance,

In the meantime, there are still students with some families that can support their education. Let them continue to study but try to motivate to join the movement for revolutionary change as much as possible. They can still significant contributions to the revolutionary movement of the youth and the entire people.

9. What do you think about the postponement of the academic year? Is there an alternative?

JMS: In the Philippines, the public schools , including the state college and universities, under the direction of the Department of Education, are supposed to start the new academic year in October because the COVID-19 pandemic has become worse in the Philippines. But certain private schools, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels, have already begun their academic year through online schooling.

I think that even under current conditions, it is is possible to have a mix of teachers meeting the students for the purpose of instruction and homework assignment at the primary level. The teachers and parents can cooperate to ensure that the home work is done. The teachers and their supervisors can be trusted with lesson plans and methods of teaching and using the school facilities, like the classrooms, the school grounds and other facilities with due respect to social distancing, sanitation and hygiene.

At the secondary and tertiary levels, it is more feasible to have a mix of online schooling and classroom or laboratory meetings. Online schooling can be availed of,as already done by certain by private schools. It might be worthwhile to study and plan how to put into convenient groups those students who live in the same areas and let those students with computer gadgets to share the gadgets with those who have none. Otherwise the government must provide the computer gadgets. The problem is that Duterte and his fellow thieves have already bankrupted the government.

10. In the Philippines, the Department of Education is considering online schooling—it might work in foreign countries, but not in the Philippines. Why is it not going to work in the country? Or for the sake of the argument, how can we make it work?

JMS: As I have said, certain private schools in the Philippines at the secondary and tertiary levels have resorted to online schooling. But these are schools of students from well to do families who can afford the computer gadgets. The poor students do not have these gadgets and cannot participate in online schooling. Probably it can work if the students who live in the same neighborhood can be grouped, with those who own the gadgets sharing these with classmates who have none, as I have earlier said..

11. Tito, as Filipinos, we cannot discuss the educational system of the country without discussing the famous slogan of the youth and students, “ PAMBANSA, SIYENTIPIKO AT MAKASAMASANG EDUKASYON,” What is it about and why is it that important that our educational system should be patriotic, scientific and pro-people?

JMS: The line of patriotic, scientific and pro-people education is important for defining the nature and purpose of the educational system. It guides and determines the content and methods of education. We need to carry out the line in order to overcome the dominant anti-national influence of pro-colonial and pro-imperialist ideas, feudal and medieval obscurantism and the anti-people and selfish motivations and direction of those who think that they are superior to other people because of their higher formal education..

Education must be national or patriotic in character in order to satisfy the needs ofFilipino nation, cherish our own national cultural heritage and current achievementsadershipand repudiate colonial mentality and subservience to imperialist powers. Education must be scientific so that we can use science and technology that have been achieved by us as well as by others in order to develop the country. Education must serve the entire Filipino people, especially the workers and peasants, who are oppressed and exploited. It must serve their national and social liberation.

12. Lastly, Tito, can you tell us about the educational system envisioned by the revolutionary forces, we know it is included in the NDFP’s 12 point-program.

JMS: The kind of educational system envisioned by the revolutionary forces in the NDFP program is patriotic, scientific and pro-people in character and purpose, as likewise espoused by the legal democratic forces of the people. During the current stage of people’s democratic revolution, the revolutionary forces welcome what good reforms can be realized by the legal democratic movement despite the tremendous odds. But in the guerrilla fronts in the countryside, the People’s Democratic Government is striving to promote and advance the line of patriotic, scientific and pro-people in a more extensive and intensive way.

The current stage of the Philippine revolution has a socialist perspective and direction. The Filipino revolutionary forces and people ought to know even now that education shall be universally free at all levels of formal education. Upon the basic completion of the people’s democratic revolution through the seizure of political power, the socialist revolution shall begin and the realization of universal free education at all levels of education, with a patriotic, scientific and pro-people character, shall also begin. We know from the history of other peoples the great achievements made by socialism in the field of education in order to develop a country by leaps and bounds economically, socially, politically and culturally.###